Following guidance by the Diocese, live-streaming from the Church is at the moment not allowed. Prayers, readings and reflections (audio file included) are available below:
The Sixth Sunday of Easter 17 May
Today's Sermon is available as an audio recording here. Press play to start.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter VI 17th May 2020
A brighter dawn is breaking,
And earth with praise is waking;
For thou, O King most highest,
The power of death defiest;
And thou hast come victorious,
With risen Body glorious,
Who now for ever livest,
And life abundant givest.
O free the world from blindness,
And fill the world with kindness,
Give sinners resurrection,
Bring striving to perfection;
In sickness give us healing,
In doubt thy clear revealing,
That praise to thee be given
In earth as in thy heaven.
God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of your Son: grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Acts 17:22-31, i Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21.
With eyes of faith, may we see Christ in our families, our friends and neighbours. Help us to live as he commanded, to know his love, and to be channels of the Spirit.
We pray for the lonely, the sad, the frail and the sick and for all who care for them. Amongst the sick we pray especially for; Charlie Chesser, Otto Lein, Bill Scott and Nick Burton.
We pray for those who have died. May they have a share in the eternal joy of heaven.
Reflections (also available in audio format above)
I have a great admiration for people who are good at learning foreign languages, especially those who learn English, where the difficulties must be huge, particularly the perversities of English pronunciation.
Then there are the odd expressions we use. If you’re learning English, what would you make of it when you’re told it’s raining cats and dogs? Or if someone tells you that a person is full of beans? Or if it’s said that someone has “gone up in the world”? But hang on to that last expression, because we’re going to return to it.
We’re still in Easter, and Easter is about Christ’s Resurrection, and about the times which He spent with His followers after that world-changing event. But this week the Easter season is going to come to an end on Thursday with the Feast of the Ascension. The Ascension is the day when the experience of the disciples is changed dramatically. After that day, they would not see the Lord again, though they would discover that He was still with them.
Two of our readings today, I Peter and St John’s Gospel point forward to the Ascension. In the Gospel, Jesus looks ahead to the time when He will not be visibly present with the disciples, a time when they will receive the Spirit of truth Who will live in them.
Not seeing their Lord again would have been desolating for the disciples, but it was actually a way of liberating them so they could go and proclaim the Good News of the Risen Christ. If He had remained visibly with them, they would have wanted to stay with Him. But now they must go and proclaim Him in the world, and to do that they have to learn that He is with them, but in a new way.
This is what Ascension Day shows us. St Luke, who we read twice on Ascension Day in his Gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles, says that Jesus instructs His disciples to go and be His witnesses, He blesses them, then, says Luke, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Now, what are we to make of that? The answer lies in the expression, someone’s “gone up in the world”. When we say that, we don’t mean that they have floated up into the sky, we mean that there’s been a change in their status; they’ve risen to a position of greater importance and influence.
This is the way in which St Luke wants us to understand the Ascension. Notice that he says Jesus was lifted up. Straight away, that should remind us of what we say about Our Lord’s Resurrection. We don’t say, “Jesus raised Himself from the dead”, we say He was raised from the dead; in other words, the Resurrection is the work of God Who raises Jesus. The Resurrection is an event brought about by God, an event which reveals God’s power and glory and victory.
The same thing applies with the Ascension. Luke doesn’t say that Jesus rocketed Himself into the sky. He says that Jesus was lifted up. In other words, Jesus’s status has been changed by God the Father. Jesus is no longer just the earthly Lord; now, as the Risen Lord, Jesus has been raised beyond all the restrictions of this world. He’s as unconfined as God the Father is.
This is a pretty big idea to grasp, which is why Luke helps us with some pictures.
Luke says that Jesus is lifted up into heaven, but by heaven he doesn’t mean some place beyond the bright blue sky, he means sharing in the life of God. To live with God is to be in heaven. When Christ leaves His disciples, he returns to that eternal glory which is His as the Son of God. He put that glory on one side to share in our human lives here, but now it is His once more.
Then Luke says, a cloud took him out of their sight. That word “cloud” has a special meaning. It’s not some water vapour floating in the sky. It’s what Hebrew thought called the shekinah, the radiance associated with the presence of God, a glory so dazzling that we can’t look into it. When Luke uses the picture of a cloud, he’s giving us a coded signal that Jesus the Son shares the glory we associate with God. I Peter uses the same picture language when it says that Jesus has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God. It means that God and the Risen Christ are one.
We often have to use picture language when we speak of God. God always goes beyond everything we can think and say, so we need to find pictures and words which give us glimpses of what we can’t fully see or understand. That was the whole point of Jesus, the Son of God, living among us: to show us Who God is and what God is really like, and to do it in human terms, which are the terms we understand best.
But while we think about the meaning of the Ascension, let’s not overlook the other ingredient of this event which we’ve already mentioned. Jesus departs from the sight of His disciples in order to liberate them. He frees them to become people who can live in relationship with Him all the time, not just when they see Him. That way, they will become fully the people they are made to be. In this life, deep and committed relationships make us more than the people we would be without them. The disciples become greater people because they are drawn into relationship with the eternal life of Our Lord. They are living constantly with Christ, so they can bear witness to Who Jesus is, to what he has done, and to what He is doing here and now in them.
What is true of the disciples is true of everyone who is baptised into the eternal life of Our Risen Lord. Our call is to live in Him and be constantly renewed by Him. We must ask ourselves, “what is the Risen and Ascended Christ doing in me now?” Then we must be prepared to show the world what He is doing in us, whether the world wants to take notice or not.
That Christian witness will matter more than ever when this present pandemic is over. Many familiar things have been shaken by it, wholly unexpected tragedy has struck thousands of people, and questions about the meaning of life and how we should be living stare us in the face. Our work as disciples of Christ is to proclaim from our own experience that death is not the end of everything. It is real, but not final, because our Risen Lord has overcome it. We must bear witness to the fact that we can share the life of Christ now. And because of the Ascension, we must proclaim the Christ Who is not somewhere in the past, but Who is waiting to meet us in every place, to inspire us, challenge us and change us. That is our Gospel, our Good News for the world.