Fr David's Sermon
17th May 2007
‘…he was carried up into heaven.’ Luke 24 v51
‘…so we in heart and mind may also ascend.’ Collect
‘…we may set our hearts in the heavenly places.’ Post Communion
Go into many an ancient church with good eyesight or even a pair of binoculars and eventually you will come across a popular image of Our Lord’s Ascension. What will it look like? You will most likely be looking up and what you will see are the soles of two feet disappearing in a cloud! ‘Amusing’, we will think with a smile. May be the medieval artist wanted us to smile – medieval religion was not afraid of parody and send up. Even so what he depicted reflected his view of the universe, earth (possibly flat) with heaven above and hell down below. At his Ascension Jesus ascended in a kind of cosmic elevator to heaven.
I’m being crude – in danger of caricature but you’ll recognise the truth in what I’m saying and also the problem it raises. Star Trek and Dr. Who apart, we no longer see things quite like that. And yet our readings and prayers are full of such ideas. I picked out a few at the start.
I was struck by the words from the Post Communion, what I wondered, might it mean for us as Christian people to ‘set our hearts in the heavenly places’?
Before thinking about that we can affirm the essential spiritual truth behind the traditional biblical and iconographical depictions of the Ascension. Jesus who lived among us as a human being in a particular place and time and who died on the cross was raised from the dead. He appeared to his disciples, convincing them that he was (is) alive. (Acts) Those appearances stopped but not the Spirit fed conviction that he is alive and is now Lord over all creation, from the particular to the universal, from somewhere to everywhere. We can affirm that there are spiritual realities beyond our normal experience and that Jesus embraces them. It is there, in ‘the heavenly places’ that our hearts are to be set. What does it mean?
Far from reflecting an outmoded idea, a kind of spiritual ‘beam up Scottie’, the Feast of the Ascension draws us more deeply into the mystery of God. We are reminded that whilst our feet may be set firmly on earth we nevertheless belong to another country. We are recalled to our task of proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven and of witnessing to our Risen Lord. We receive the Holy Spirit who equips us for this task. Not head in the clouds, rather feet on the ground, very practical and yet giving us a glimpse of heaven.
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