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 Sunday after Ascension Day 24 May
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The Sunday after Ascension Day
Sunday after Ascension Day 24th May 2020
Supreme Rector coellitum
O King most high of earth and sky
On prostrate death thou treadest,
And with thy blood dost mark the road
Whereby to heaven thou leadest.
O Christ, behold thine orphaned fold,
Which thou hast borne with anguish,
Steeped in the tide from thy rent side;
O leave us not to languish.
The glorious gain of all the pain
Henceforth dost thou inherit;
Now comes the hour - then gently shower
On us thy promised Spirit.
O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14,5:6-11, John 17:1-11.
May the Church be a messenger of the gospel and a witness to Christ our risen and ascended Lord.
As humanity is taken up into heaven, may the perfect image of God be restored to mankind.
We pray for the sick, their anxious families and for all who care for them. We pray especially for Charlie Chesser, Otto Lein and Bill Scott.
We pray for the departed who have followed where Christ has led and been lifted up to be with him in heaven. We pray for Beaumont Brandy recently dead.
Sunday After Ascension (audio file available above)
If there’s one thing many of us dislike, it’s being kept waiting. Sometimes it’s a fairly trivial matter, like the person in front of us in the queue who has a complicated request. Other times, it can be much more serious, as when we’re awaiting the results of medical tests and we’re fearful of what they might reveal. In that case, the waiting is made worse by feeling powerless.
That second kind of waiting has something in common with the situation of Jesus’s disciples after He had gone from their sight on Ascension Day. What were they supposed to do? According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told them that they had a task ahead of them; they were to be His witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem. But He added the rather cryptic instruction that they were to stay in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.
That was a way of telling them that the job they were being given was to be done at God’s direction, and at the time and in the way which God decided. They weren’t to fall into the error of thinking that they must start to draw up schemes and plans for mission. No, they had to wait for a signal from God.
That’s all very well, but what were they to do while they were waiting for something and didn’t know what it would be? Luke tells us that they stayed together as a group and devoted themselves to prayer, which was the best thing to do. They also filled-in some time by electing a replacement for Judas, Jesus’s betrayer who was dead, and they chose Matthias. But then they just had to carry on waiting for whatever God was going to do. That waiting was a real expression of faith.
This must strike a chord with us now, because we find ourselves in a situation where waiting has been forced upon us. Facing a pandemic, we’ve been confronted by a frightening present and an uncertain future, where we’re not sure what will happen and when. Also, we’ve been prevented from distracting ourselves by rushing around, going places and seeing people. We’ve had to stay put, to be self-isolating. In short, we’re having to wait.
Like the disciples, we’re facing the question, “what happens when this waiting is over?” Like them, we’re being challenged to enter an unpredictable future. There’s plenty of talk about “getting back to normal”, but to those who’ve done a bit of reflecting during the lockdown there comes the disconcerting thought, “what was that previous ‘normal’ like? And do we actually want to go back to it?” Even the words, “go back to” suggest that we might simply opt to pick up where we left off and behave as though the pandemic had never happened.
Do we want to return, for example, to a situation where our cities are again suffocating in a fog of traffic pollution? Do we want to return to a culture whose guiding rule is “me first”, and where every problem relating to the environment or to health is decided by the need to make money rather than by compassion? Do we want to return to a world where the most powerful nations and the most bloated business corporations aim to grab still more, while poor countries and starving people are left with empty begging bowls? Do we want to return to watching the earth’s resources being ravaged to the point of annihilation in order to give us a quicker, bigger profit?
It’s encouraging that as a result of the Coronavirus there are many people, of all ages, asking these questions; yet the distressing truth is that we’re so conditioned by decades, indeed centuries of materialism, that breaking free from this mindset seems at times almost impossible.
There’s no point in being unrealistic. Finance, industry, transport all have the capacity to contribute beneficially to our lives, but to do that they must be our servants, not avaricious tyrants.
One thing stands out at present. If change is to come, it will be because we are willing to make the sacrifices to enable that change to happen. Our guiding principle will need to be Simplification – a willingness to be content with what we need, rather than pursuing excess. But to bring this about we must be changed.
This is where we return to the disciples, waiting in the time between the Ascension and whatever it was going to be that they were waiting for. For them, this was a time when they were discovering that previous ways of thinking and living would no longer be enough. They sensed that something was coming beyond anything they could imagine, something which would be given to them, rather than something they could invent.
This message that the power we need will always be a gift is one which Christians have to relearn constantly, and then teach. One of the cruelties which secularism inflicts is to tell us that we can draw on no resources beyond ourselves. If we can’t do it by ourselves, then we’re sunk. The witness of the disciples, and of countless Christians through the centuries, tells us otherwise. We’re not left to “go it alone” and face despair when things don’t work out. The power of God revealed to us in Our Lord Jesus Christ is still with us, to give us strength, vision and faith to do what would be impossible by ourselves.
But how will that gift come? Well, we have to wait until next Sunday to see how the power beyond the disciples’ imagining was given to them. And if that sounds like, “tune in for next week’s exciting instalment,” it can’t be helped.
Christians, like everyone else at the moment, are in a waiting time, not least waiting to see when we can once again open our church doors and join together in worship at the altar. Our temptation will be to go back to what we’ve always known and done and not look to greater possibilities. So, while we wait, let’s hear again the great prayer which Christ made at the Last Supper. Part of it is our Gospel reading today. You’ll find it in full in John’s Gospel chapter 17. It’s a prayer for His disciples in the work which lies ahead for them, and so it’s a prayer for us. We are in this world, and Our Lord knows that we need protection from the corruption and sinfulness which can operate in every institution, in every part of human activity. It’s a prayer for us, because the followers of Christ are not promised an easy ride, especially if we question prevailing attitudes toward wealth and those who are vulnerable. Jesus prays for us, and for all who hear the Gospel through us. That is the assurance we need.
And what is the power given to us, to enable us to do the previously unimaginable? There, I can truly say, “listen next Sunday.” Until then, as always where God is concerned, we must wait expectantly.