MORE THOUGHTS 7
Many of us will have vivid memories, from times past, of going to the airport to say goodbye to a loved one and watch them disappear beyond the departure gates, out of sight, out of physical touch, maybe for an unknown time. They are emotional memories. Nowadays such partings are softened by the knowledge that we can keep in touch by phone, by email, or see someone on our computer screens as we talk with them by Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp or whatever. IN earlier times people set off on journeys to new lands knowing that they would never return or be able to see family and friends left behind and having no clear idea of what they were going to or what life would be like.
Thursday 13 May marks Ascension Day this year. It is not a day that figures largely in people’s consciousness. It is almost like a minor episode between Easter and Jesus’ resurrection appearances to his friends, and then Pentecost when we celebrate the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet unless we have the Ascension, we are leaving God’s work in Jesus in a kind of limbo land. Yes, Jesus had come to his friends many times and continued to show them how things were to be. They are in the process of changing from the dispirited, grief-stricken, unfocussed group of men and women to becoming stronger and to realizing that the ending had not been only that but a new beginning for them and for their discipleship. They see that their calling as people of God is to continue and to grow and they glimpse how they are growing into it. They are no longer to be like children gathered around their teacher and depending on his bodily presence. The time has come for Jesus to depart from them physically, which, after blessing them, he does. Like at the departure gate at an airport, Jesus disappears from their sight. He has gone. But, as Luke’s gospel tells us, they were not left grief stricken again but were filled with joy. They know that they are not left alone. They know that their teacher, their Lord is not abandoning them. Everything they gave up to follow him has not been in vain. Indeed, their new journey of faith is just beginning. They were now to be the body of Christ, to be his presence in the world where Jesus’ physical presence was no longer visible to them. At Pentecost they would be really set ablaze in the power of the Spirit.
There is much that we can learn from this as we reflect on our calling as God’s people. as God’s church. What does it mean to us to be called to be the physical presence, the embodiment of Christ in the world? It surely impacts on the way we regard one another, on the way we speak, on the way we reach out, on the care we demonstrate, not least to ourselves.
We are your people,
Spirit of grace,
you dare to make us
to all our neighbours
Christ's living voice, hands and face.
Joined in community,
treasured and fed,
may we discover
gifts in each other,
willing to lead and be led. Brian Wren.