Dear friends, someone sent me a picture today which said: ‘This is the feast of the Ascension. To those who wonder what it’s about, it’s the day when the Lord Jesus started working from home.’
It may sound a little flippant, but it points to a truth. The Ascension marks the return of the Lord Jesus to His Father. And with this feast, something changes in the dynamic of our Eastertide journey.
The Lord Jesus made a final appearance in His risen body to His disciples. He promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit and then was taken from their sight. And the Spirit descended at Pentecost, empowering the Church to set the world ablaze with the Gospel.
Just think, for a moment, what this must have been like for those first disciples. Having come to know the Lord Jesus, having walked with Him, having witnessed His death and resurrection, they are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Ascension, what seems like an ending, is in fact a beginning. And what an important lesson for Christian life. Even where there is pain and suffering, and loss, what seems like an ending always, in God’s providence, opens to a new beginning.
There’s a lovely prayer in the Breviary which asks: ‘Lord, be the beginning and end of all that we do and say.’ How important to remember that God is always faithful to what He begins. Even from the saddest of endings, He can bring something new. This is why we always see the outline of the risen Christ behind every crucifix.
For the past forty days, despite lockdown, we have rejoiced in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. Of course, since that first Easter morning the Lord has always been risen. But the feast and season of Easter helps us, each year, to believe more deeply that by dying He destroyed our death and by rising He restored our life. Again and again, each day, we return to the empty tomb – we must return to the empty tomb – to hear afresh the glorious Good News that ‘He is risen.’ Christ ascended not to distance Himself from us, but so that we might be confident of following where He has gone before us.
Dear friends, this feast affirms our faith. The Lord Jesus is alive: alive in His Church; alive in His Word; alive in His Sacraments; alive in the world. He lives in you by the power of His Spirit. Risen, ascended, and glorified, He is, forever, God with us, God for us, God beside and God within us.
Because He is risen, we really do have hope. Because He conquered death, we really can have eternal life. Because He returned to His Father, we have a way to heaven. Because He sent us the Holy Spirit we can step forward carrying the Good News.
Were Christ not risen, not ascended, and not reigning, then our faith – then my faith – would mean nothing. But Christ is risen. Christ has ascended. Christ is reigning. And this faith means everything. So many people have said to me in recent weeks, ‘I do not know how I would coped without my faith.’
In a changed world and country in a changed Church, and with changed lives, we, nonetheless, cry alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! On the darkest days – whatever that means for you, and it will mean something to all of us – on the darkest days, Christ is still risen. Faced with doubt and sin – whether mine or yours or someone else’s – Christ is still risen. As we move through what are still uncertain times, Christ is still risen! And it is with abounding joy that we raise the cry of victory.
St Luke wrote both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In them he gives two complementary accounts of the Lord’s Ascension. Just listen to the farewell instructions given by the Lord Jesus to His disciples, and take to heart the particular words the Lord Jesus desires you to receive personally. Hear these words. Open your heart to the power of the Spirit to speak these words to you:
- ‘You will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’
- ‘You are not to know times and dates decided by the Father’
- ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’
- ‘You will be my witnesses to the end of the earth’
- ‘You are to go and make disciples, baptising in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’
- ‘You are to teach them to observe all my commandments’
- ‘I am with you always, to the end of time’
These powerful words, followed by the Lord Jesus being taken up, out of their sight, left the disciples stood mesmerised, stood looking up into the sky. It takes two angel-like figures to bring them to their senses. Get on with it! Get on with what He told you. This is how I understand what those angelic figures are saying. It’s a message for today. It’s a message for us. Get on with it. Get on with sharing God’s love, with sharing God’s mercy. Get on with living your faith with joy and with passion
‘You will be my witnesses,’ says the Lord Jesus before He ascends to His Father – ‘You will be my witnesses.’ Dear friends, in whatever way you can be a witness to Christ, in whatever way you are being a witness to Christ, never forget that every moment, every second, our Saviour promises us – you and me – ‘I am with you always; yes to the end of time.’