Ascension Day Thursday 21st May 2020
On Ascension Day, I always think an appropriate anthem should be that unforgettable song from the finale of the ‘Sound of Music’:
“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu; to you and you and you and you and you …”
It would be an appropriate anthem because it speaks of leaving, of farewell but also gives us just the possibility of return. Adieu is not as final as farewell.
Today, Jesus leaves his disciples, or more correctly, today 40 days after his resurrection he leaves this earthly realm for his Father’s heavenly Kingdom. If we were being chronological about the Ascension then we should really read the Gospel portion before the Acts reading. As the Gospel reading ends Luke’s first book about the life of Christ and the Acts piece begins his second book about what happens to Jesus’ followers once he has returned to heaven.
No other human being, that we know, of has ever disappeared after a resurrection, as he did. Quite how he ascended is a bit vague and those paintings and stained glass windows that show his feet dangling below the clouds don’t really help to solve the mystery either. Suffice to say (and this is an act of faith) in some way Jesus departed from us on earth but with a promise to return.
Jesus was born into our fleshly life and today he makes or takes his leave of us in this earthly, fleshly form. He was born as we are but was both God and human at the same time. The hymn writer Graham Kendrick says in one of his hymns:
“From heaven you came helpless babe,
Entered our world, your glory veiled.
Not to be served but to serve
And give your life, that we might live…”
Jesus came to us in flesh, both human and God.
He came ‘God incarnate’ to prove God’s love for us, his creation, and he did so by atoning for our sins on the cross. In doing so he cleansed each and every one of us for all eternity and by the example of his life we are shown the path to eternal life in God.
When we die, we in our turn and in our own way ascend to God. Our souls return to our Creator, the One who made us of his very self. Throughout our lives our souls are restless and yearn for God - we desire to be one with him again. This in part explains our restlessness in life, we are forever seeking to return to God as Jesus did.
Like Jesus, when we die, we die in the hope of and with the promise of new life at the end of time. Quite what this means is unclear but we hope, we have faith, that it will be a glorious restoration of all whom we love into one new Kingdom of God. That is our Christian hope and it is this that Jesus affirms for us today, in his ascension. That is also our hope for all who have died recently during this pandemic time.
By his ascension, Jesus shows us that by taking his leave of us, he will and can return at another time. Just as we hope that we too will return at the day of the final resurrection. BUT in order to return you do have to leave in the first place. Once you’ve gone you can come back and to do so in the knowledge that those who love you will be glad to see you again is important. Remember the old saying:
“You have to let then go, in order for them to come back.”
Our parents and perhaps we ourselves, will have said or heard this phrase many times in relation to ourselves and those we love. In letting our loved ones go, we hope to see them again because we will always leave the door ajar for them to push open. This is what we are doing today saying; “Au revoir” to Jesus and hoping that we will see him return one day in this life or the next.
Today we are letting him go free, we are not clinging on to him, or trying to stop him; we are letting him go knowing that he has promised to return.