Daily Devotion 13 May 2021

Create a peaceful space to pause, and allow yourself to feel God’s presence alongside you, as near to you as your own breath. In following the reflection below, as a church we will draw closer to God and to one another as we grow in faith and deepen our sense of belonging to God.

Acts 1: 8-9 ‘The Ascension of Jesus’

8 Jesus said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

“It sounds to me like a celestial blast-off, Cape Kennedy style” was the comment from a sceptical friend as he contemplated St. Luke’s account of the ascension of Jesus. I attempted some simple demythologising along these lines: in ancient times heaven was seen as a zone above the firmament of the sky – or ‘above the bright blue sky’ as we used to sing many years ago in Sunday School! It was regarded as the true and ultimate destination for all the faithful of whatever tribe or nationality – so understandable that Luke uses traditional Hebrew pictorial language to convey Christ ‘going up’ to heaven, in particular to his heavenly father God.

Moreover, the inclusive nature of heaven tuned in well with the understanding that henceforth Jesus was not just significant as the localised ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, but from Ascension and Pentecost onwards he was Christ for all the nations and peoples of the world – no longer limited to space and time. I could have added that as early as the 3rd Century the philosopher/theologian Origen regarded the ascension of Christ as essentially spiritual rather than spacial (certainly not Cape Kennedy style!).

Ascension is the penultimate of the Christian festivals. It is often downplayed or even ignored because it is so close to Pentecost and also as Ascension Day is always on a Thursday – 40 days after Easter Sunday. Ascensiontide prepares us for Pentecost. It is the watershed between the mission of Jesus within a limited geographical location and time, and the outgoing and timeless mission of the Church energised by the Spirit at Pentecost. Many of the traditional hymns that we sing at Ascensiontide use the language of sovereignty and Lordship such as the hymn ‘Rejoice the Lord is King’. This could suggest a power and authority somewhat removed from the Jesus who became powerless on a cross and washed his disciples’ feet. “I came not to be served but to serve” said Jesus, well expressed in the modern hymn ‘The Servant King’.

Ascensiontide reminds us of the Great Commission of Jesus to his disciples – “go into all the world”. The travels of Paul and Barnabas across the Mediterranean epitomised this commission. So does the contemporary movement of church workers in all directions around the world to serve churches and communities. Likewise Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund play their Christ-inspired role alongside other aid agencies in addressing the needs of our world. We do well to regard Ascensiontide as not so much a shooting upwards with Christ’s feet moving skywards, but rather the recognition that like Christ, OUR feet need always to move outwards to those in need of all that the Gospel message entails.

Prayer:
Graham Kendrick (StF 272)

This is our God, the Servant King, he calls us now to follow him
To bring our lives as a daily offering of worship to the Servant King. Amen.

Reflection and Prayer © 2021 Gordon Harrison.
Hymn words © 1983, Thankyou Music. Administered by worshiptogether.com Songs.
Image Ascension by Ronald Raab https://ronaldraab.com/2018/05/11/the-ascension-of-the-lord-my-bulletin-cover-art-and-column/.

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All material within this order of worship is reproduced by permission under CCL 1226356