Introduction and Call to Worship
Today we remember the risen Messiah returning to his Father, and we bring ourselves to him to receive his blessing for our lives. Let’s worship together as his disciples did, with joy and expectancy, and open our hearts to see our lives anew and the needs around us where we might be Christ’s blessing in the world in the power of God’s Spirit.
First Reading Acts 1:1-11 (must be used as either the first or second reading)
The disciples witness the ascension of Jesus.
Second Reading Ephesians 1:15-23
The Church is the fullness of Christ, and Christ fills all.
Gospel Luke 24:44-53
Christ fulfilled the Law and the prophets, and heard the cries of God’s people. That same fulfilment is under the power and authority of the Spirit, clothing Christ’s Church, and giving direction to Christ’s people.
HOMILY “I am sending upon you what my Father promised.” (Luke 24:49)
The ascension of Jesus into heaven can seem like a very mysterious event – indeed the whole concept of heaven and the afterlife can seem daunting. I’m sure we often struggle to put into words our own understanding of heaven, and the mystery that surrounds the ascension of Jesus. One day a priest found three boys, sat in the park, who were bunking off school. “Don’t you want to go to heaven?” the Vicar asked them sternly. “Of course, I do!” said two of the boys. But to the surprise of the priest, the third replied, “No Father.” “What’s the matter? You don’t want to go to heaven when you die?” The boy thought about it and responded, “Oh…. when I die! Of course, I do, when I die. But I thought you were getting ready to go there now and wanting to take us with you!”
At some stage, we pray that each one of us, and all those whom we love, will be called by God to heaven. It is unlikely to be as dramatic as the description found in Scripture: Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (1: 1-11) describes the moment Jesus disappears into the heavens, out of sight – leaving behind on earth his faithful disciples to continue his ministry and build up his Church. This passage presents a few important themes. First, Christianity depends primarily upon God’s free action; it comes directly from the heart of the Trinity of love. In other words, we are loved as the people God has made us to be – that is our starting place. Then, we find that God’s Kingdom is not about earthly dominion but the coming of the Holy Spirit to equip us, challenge and love us. Jesus ascends bodily into heaven, but the Holy Spirit is poured out upon his Church; with echoes of the great prophet Elijah being taken up into heaven, Jesus ascends, while blessing the disciples. Therefore, the disciples are not left comfortless as they strive to build up God’s new kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. We are part of that same Church, growing, renewing, changing and being changed by God’s action and grace. Or, as our Diocesan strap-line suggests, ‘Transforming Church, Transforming lives’. Therefore, post the Ascension of Jesus, the disciples, and therefore us today, should spend our time witnessing to God’s love, worshipping with joy and active in service.
Luke in his Gospel has a good go at explaining the mystery of it all - he culminates his text with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and the resulting new activity of the disciples. Jesus leaves them with his blessing and they continue to worship him. His blessing has been given, as promised, for wholeness and fullness of life and this becomes the permanent gift of the Spirit to his disciples at Pentecost. Perhaps that is why in John’s Gospel Jesus uses the words, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) They have work to be about, in His name – in His place and with His authority.
First, Jesus in his life had taught them all about the kingdom, demonstrating in loving action his ministry of service, healing and sacrifice. Now, even while they wait to be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) the disciples respond to Christ’s blessing by praising God in worship. We too are called to begin everything in praise and worship.
All the scriptures find their fulfilment in Jesus and now our Lord reveals the next step as his disciples will proclaim to all nations the repentance and the forgiveness of sins that will bring people into a new relationship with God. The vision of God for all creation in all the world will be fulfilled through the body of believers, the Church – yes, us here in Thorpe today – filled with the vision of the kingdom and God’s salvation, the vision of being blessed and blessing God. The emphasis here is on ALL people – but does the Church today, do Christians generally and do we remember this is our vocation: to love, to serve and to bless ALL?
Luke, who is also the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, goes on to tell how the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus, will be demonstrated in power by the transforming activity of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of believers. God raises Jesus from the dead, and so confirms all that Jesus has been and done and will continue to do through his Church – us here in Thorpe today – through us. The Holy Spirit equips people everywhere to speak of the unity which comes from God alone – the same unity that exists between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: unity of absolute and unconditional love of God the Trinity and love for the creation. We are called to mirror that love and show it forth in action, transforming lives, and how exciting that is, equipped for service by the promised Spirit of Pentecost.
Friends, the ascension of Jesus can seem mystical, strange and even hard to describe or understand. But put simply it is a moment of transition: Now the work of preaching the kingdom of God is to rest upon the disciples. Now we are to mediate the real presence of Jesus which brings transformation to the world, to the lives of those around us. Starting from our Lord’s Ascension the Good News is to be proclaimed to all nations and people and we, this community of St Mary’s Church Thorpe, continue that work today. Amen.
The good news of Jesus is life, love, healing and unity – transforming Church and lives.
We are blessed by God and equipped by the power of the Spirit for ministry today.
After the ascension of Jesus his life and message are absolutely bound up in the love of the Trinity.
After the ascension, the continuation of God’s fulfilled promises to all nations will be through the body of Christ, through us – his Church today. And how exciting that is!