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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon

8th May 2005

Fr David Shepherd


Today is the 8th May. It will always be V.E. Day. This year is special because it is the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe. It is special also because before many more years the memory of that time will pass from living memory to written history.

This year 8th May happens to be the Sunday after Ascension or the Seventh Sunday of Easter as the new calendar calls it. We recall the victory of the Risen, Ascended, Lord Jesus over death and sin.

Why the change in name you might be wondering. It is because the compilers of the Revised lectionary wanted to emphasise the unity of Easter, the great 50 days from Easter to Pentecost. So we now have Sundays of Easter rather than after Easter. The Ascension is to be seen as part of the Easter experience culminating with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Not anymore is the Pascal Candle snuffed out ceremoniously after the reading of Ascension Day Gospel. The Risen Christ has not gone away. Rather he is ever present in glory.

Because the Church calendar has always been based on Luke/Acts we are used to a tidy, logical account of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, with one event following on from another. St. Luke in his two accounts of the Ascension used highly pictorial language to describe the experience of the disciples post Easter and also to put across his theological ideas. As we consider today's passage from Acts about he Ascension and also recall the passages from Ascension Day we can detect that the original experience of the disciples would have been much less tidy. By picking out key features we can also discover what those experiences meant for them and also what they might mean for us.

  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. Once the reader's mind had been opened and they could be read in the OT. Jesus fulfilled the past and through him would come future fulfilment, at the end time. The disciples were to have faith in this but not to concern themselves with the details. We too will only find fulfilment in Christ.
  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. We share in this witness and mission.
  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, just as we do.
  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. Joy remains the key not of Christian worship.
  5. What of us? We can see in today's Ascension story from Acts the coming together of many aspects of the Easter gospel. In our celebration of Easter, Ascensiontide and Pentecost we come to understand the truth of that 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. This is to be experienced more than it is to be understood, as in our Easter worship we too are blessed by Christ.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.


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