‘[Luke] wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven. [Jesus then said] ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses […] to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes’. Acts 1:1-2,8-9
Brothers and sisters, we find ourselves in another time of transition, a period of change from one situation to another. Transition brings with it fear as well as excitement. Forgive me for mentioning holidays at this time, but it is a helpful example, think of the airport at the beginning of your holidays; concern and fear as to the transition from the UK to your destination, but excitement for your holiday. We are entering a period of transition from complete lockdown to the first stage in our national recovery. There is fear regarding whether this is too soon, and what the implications for the vulnerable will be. There will also be excitement as children look forward to school, adults look forward to a haircut perhaps, and for all of us as we are able to begin to see family and friends. Transitions bring fear as well as excitement.
On Thursday we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, another transition, and Fr Neil helped us to think about the call to mission inherent in the Ascension readings. Today, the Church has us revisit the text from the Acts of the Apostles, returning us to the beginning of that book in preparation for Pentecost. As Fr Neil has already focused on us being witnesses, let me focus instead on a slightly different aspect of that reading. We are transitioning from Ascension to Pentecost and for the Apostles they too must have felt both fear and excitement. Fear because Jesus seems to have left. Excitement for He promised to send the Holy Spirit. But whether the Apostles grasped this next point or not, we need to understand that Jesus’ ascension is NOT him going away. It might feel as if Jesus has left the scene, as if He is saying ‘my job is done, over to you’, but this is emphatically NOT the point. We must not think of heaven as some other place “out there”, as if heaven is like France and Jesus has crossed the Channel; or that heaven is like Mars and Jesus has left the earth. Heaven is not some location elsewhere, no, heaven is a different realm which is no further away, in fact if anything it is closer, than if He were physically present with us. Before the Ascension Jesus was located in time and space, that is He existed in Israel on a specific date. But now that Jesus is in heaven, He can be in all places and all times. Jesus is therefore close to each one of us despite the lockdown, closer than two metres, all we need do is to call on Him in prayer.
In addition, Jesus ascending is NOT Him leaving the scene but rather it is Him ascending to the throne by which He is able to govern the Church, and see her through every time in every place. Note the language Luke uses at the beginning of our reading, v1: ‘I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach’. Notice he says all that Jesus BEGAN to do, all that Jesus BEGAN to teach; Jesus isn’t finished yet, no, He has only just begun! Now that Jesus is in heaven He is in the right place to govern the Church. Now that He is outside time He is able to teach all nations and all generations, and He is best able to love and care for all nations and all generations. How? Through His body, the Church. Through you and me, and every baptised believer across the world and down through the centuries. Jesus hasn’t finished His ministry, no, Jesus has only just begun! Jesus’ ascension then is great news, for now He governs all things, and can ensure His message goes out to the ends of the earth, and He does this by the sending the Holy Spirit… but more on that next week.
As we await Pentecost then, let us remind ourselves of these truths, and look forward in growing confidence, for in this transition we need not fear, we need only to be excited for what comes next. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)