Sunday 16th May 2021
Seeing that we have a great High Priest that has passed into the heavens, even Jesus Christ our Lord, let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may fine mercy and help in time of need.
Almighty God, you are immortal, invisible, the only wise God. You raised up your Son and took him up into the heavens and so though our eyes cannot see him he is revealed to the eye of faith that we may know him. In this hour of worship we offer up our praise. We seek your blessing and pray that our hearts and minds will be open to your guidance.
O God who is the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you; help us so to know you that we may truly love you; so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom.
Eternal Father, we acknowledge our faults and our failings. We do not always seek to know you better, but instead seek to go in our own ways. We allow ourselves to be distracted so that we too easily set aside your will. We not only forget the needs of others but forget the claims our God has on us. Be pleased to forgive what we are for Jesus’ sake and through the Holy Spirit direct what we shall be.
Most gracious God, who sent your Son to be our Lord and Saviour, let us come to him. Our hearts are cold; May he warm them with his selfless love. Our hearts are sinful; may he cleanse them with his precious blood. Our hearts are weak; may he strengthen them. Our hearts are empty; may they be filled with your divine presence. O Lord our God, our hearts are yours, possess them always and only for yourself, through Jesus Christ our Lord who has taught us to pray, Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory, Forever. Amen.
St Luke 24:44-53
A thought for today
The fortieth day after Easter is Ascension Day when the Church commemorates Jesus ascending into heaven. That day marked an important transition. Until then Jesus had been bound by the constraints of a human body. Now he was set free and could as he had promised be with his followers always, no matter where they were. This is the great assurance of the Christian Faith. No matter what, no matter where we are, we are never alone.
Before his arrest and trial, Jesus had warned the disciples that he would be taken from them. But they were not to worry for he would not leave them to find their way by themselves. When he had gone he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. Next week we shall celebrate the fulfilment of that promise at Pentecost. It was a gift the disciples found invaluable. Without it they would have given up and gone back to Galilee. If that had happened all they had gone through with Jesus would truly have been in vain.
The name ‘Ascension’ can present us with a challenge. In normal use the word implies rising up. Given the belief at the time that heaven was up there above the sky it was natural for the disciples to think that when Jesus spoke of being taken into heaven he meant that he was going up. This belief was based on the Genesis account of creation where God created a firmament separating heaven above from the earth below.
Some today take issue with such an understanding of the cosmos. It is said to have been Yuri Gagarin the first man in space who said on his return that he had seen no sign of God up there. It is also said that what Genesis says must be rejected since its account is clearly incompatible with a proper scientific account, forgetting that that is precisely what the Genesis account of creation was at the time. Such a point of view also fails to recognise that what science can give is simply a theory and theories only hold good until fresh evidence emerges to reveal any shortcomings.
In any case the Ascension is not about Jesus going anywhere. Rather is seeks to describe a transition from one state to another. Ironically science can perhaps best help us to understand. Thanks to James Watt the latent power in water was harnessed in the steam engine. He saw that when water is heated sufficiently it turns to steam and in its gaseous form water could release considerable energy. But steam and water remain the same chemical compound. Without the change from liquid to gas the energy remained locked up.
Something similar happened at the Ascension. In his lifetime Jesus was bound by space and time just like everyone else, otherwise he could not have been fully human. The same was true of the Risen Christ for the 40 days that followed the first Easter, then it all changed. From that day on Jesus was set free from all human limitations. Now he is able to be with his followers always and anywhere. This is really what the Ascension is about.
During the last 15 months we have come to realise how important and precious this is. We have come through times of unprecedented difficulty and uncertainty due to Covid. Many, naturally, were fearful and anxious but what helped to keep us going was the promise that we did not face the pandemic alone. God in Christ has been with us all the way. Unlike so many with no faith, we could hold fast to Jesus’ promise that he would be with us even to the end of the world. Certainly, there have been moments during these last months when it felt like the end of the world as we had known it. Every little step forward was followed by another setback as the course of the pandemic fluctuated.
Now at last thanks to the success of the vaccination programme we are making real progress towards a new normal. The danger now comes from the temptation to relax too soon. To do that could mean throwing away the benefits gained in these last weeks and risking a further spike in the virus. The strict restrictions might be coming to an end, but the virus has not gone away as the spikes in Moray and Glasgow show. This is not the time to be giving up and seeking to return to what we call ‘normal life’.
The disciples found that after the Ascension they could look to the future because they knew that Jesus was with them. Then when at Pentecost Jesus’ other promise was fulfilled and they were given the power of the Holy Spirit all despair and fear fell away, and they went out to turn the world upside down.
In the last 15 months church life has been turned upside down. We have witnessed the growth of the online church which has been able to reach out to many who never darkened a church door. But let us not fall into the trap of thinking that the digital church will be the church of the future. It cannot because it lacks the one thing that makes the church a family of God’s people – the coming together in fellowship for worship. Solitary Christianity was tried by the hermits of old but was always seen as unsatisfactory by the church as a whole. In any case there are many of our people who have not the means or the will to worship online.
Nevertheless, the experience of lockdown has revealed a sense of spiritual need. We need to find ways of capitalising on this. Whatever we do we have to find a way to bind together traditional worship with the outreach of technology. It is a journey of exploration we can make, for thanks to the Ascension, we do not have to make it alone.
A closing prayer
We bless and praise you O lord our God, for all things work for good for those who love you. You are ever merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness and truth, and the Rewarder of those who diligently seek you. In your grace you have created us in your own image and given us minds to know you and hearts to love you. To help us to live according to your will you have given your Son to be our example and strength. For all his teaching and gifts we give thanks. We rejoice in the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we are empowered to walk with Christ all the days of our life.
Lord, save us from being self-centred in our prayers and teach us to remember to pray for others. May we be so bound up in love with those for whom we pray that we may feel their needs as acutely as our own and intercede for them with sensitivity and understanding.
We remember the Church, especially this congregation to which we belong. May we never forget that we are set here to be a light in the darkness of the world, revealing something of the glory of the love of God for his people. May we by what we do and say in the Name of Christ be able to draw others into his fellowship. Through our endeavours and those of your faithful children throughout the world, may your Kingdome come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We pray for peace in this troubled world. May all the hatreds and prejudices that divide us be set aside and in their place sow love and fellowship so that all warfare and strife may be brought to an end especially in that land that was home to the Prince of Peace. Bless the peacemakers and crown their endeavours with success.
God bless our country and our Queen. Be with all who bear authority under her. Guide them by your Spirit that they may know what is right to do and more importantly what would be wrong because it could never be in accord with your will.
We remember before God all who have suffered in these last months from illness, loss of employment and bereavement. Grant to each a knowledge of your presence to uphold them. God grant healing to the sick, relief to those in pain. Give comfort to the dying and consolation to all that mourn.
All this we ask through Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for evermore, be glory and praise world without end.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and evermore.