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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


20th May 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Ascension Day

As a child I was fascinated by Ascension Day. I think it was because we got the day off school after we had been to Church. It was the day the fair came. I liked the Ascension hymn with all its 'Alleluias'. The story of Jesus 'taking off' into the heavens captured my imagination. It was the time of the Apollo space programme. Like all children I wondered what it was like above the clouds. I had yet to fly in an aeroplane.

Whilst all that makes Ascension Day appealing to a child it also suggests why it can be difficult for adults. Difficult that is until we recall that St. Luke in his two accounts of the Ascension is using highly pictorial language to describe the experience of the disciples post Easter and also to put across his theological ideas. Such language was less strange to his hearers than to us. The ancient world was well used to stories of the comings and goings of the gods. So let us look again at the story in Luke/Acts.

  1. Fulfilment. Luke was concerned that Theophilus and all his subsequent readers should understand that in Jesus the Law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms were fulfilled. Jesus' death on the cross, his suffering and his Resurrection were all intended and they could be read in the OT once the reader's mind had been opened. Jesus fulfilled the past and through him would come future fulfilment, the end time. The disciples were to have faith in this but not to concern themselves with the details.
  2. Witnessing. The Ascension story belongs to the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. The disciples were convinced that Jesus was alive. The appearances came to an end. Luke's story provides a neat ending to this. The disciples' received their commission as apostles. They were to tell what they had seen and to preach a message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through out the world.
  3. Waiting for the Spirit. In the Christian life, time is everything, the Lord's time. For now the disciples were to stay in the city and to wait to be clothed with the power from on high, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If they had rushed into their task in their own strength they would have failed, they needed God's power, his Spirit for this.
  4. Worship. The disciples experienced the Ascension in the context of worship just as they would the coming of the Spirit. Jesus blessed them at Bethany, a special place in his earthly life and ministry. Then he withdrew from them into heaven. The particular focus of the earthly Jesus gave way to the sense of the universal presence of Christ, confirmed at Pentecost. The disciples carried on worshipping filled with joy.
  5. What of us? It is in our joyful celebration of the Ascension that we come to understand truth of the Gospel, that Jesus is now King of the Universe. In him we find fulfilment, in him we are commissioned for Christian ministry and witness, through him we receive the Holy Spirit. The Ascension is to be experienced more than it is to be understood. In our worship we too are blessed by Christ.

Amen

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Last updated 20/05/04 12:00 Author: David Shepherd