Thought for Sunday 24th May

From Peter Thomas

My first knowledge of Ascension Day was In Miss Sellick’s class in primary school, I sat next to Andrew Carpenter. One day he was not in school – and when he returned the next day, a Friday, I asked if he was OK, whether he had been ill, seeking an explanation for his absence. His response was, “it was Ascension Day”. I was a confused 8-year-old. It transpired he was a Roman Catholic and, as such, was allowed the day off school – it seemed that as long as he went to church in the morning he did not need to come in all day. Although we were not a church going family, I still felt it was a bit unfair – I now wonder why it isn’t a public holiday for us all (as it is, for instance, in France and Italy). For mathematical reasons Ascension is always a Thursday – 40 days after Easter – and hence frequently forgotten, even by Christians. Yet it is, surely, amongst the most momentous days in human history. We make a lot of fuss about Jesus descent to earth; but give little thought to his departure. It is recorded in scripture and declared in the Creeds, yet not widely celebrated. Maybe we have focussed on the tragedy of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection and picture the Ascension as a relocation of the Risen Christ – simply a goodbye to Earth. It is so much more than that – it is the start of a new phase in Jesus’ ministry and also enables the birth of the Church. Luke begins his 2nd volume in a remarkable way. “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach” – no sense of Jesus having completed either his work or his teaching. So what is he saying or doing now? The Ascension was necessary to enable Jesus to continue his work. His role as Redeemer and Saviour was completed on the Cross and proved by the Resurrection. His initial action after the Ascension was to send the Spirit (John 16:7). Today he is our Prophet, Priest and King, in Glory. As a Prophet he still speaks to us through His Spirit (John 16:15); as a Priest he intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25) and understands us (Heb.4:15); as a King he has all authority (Matt. 28:18) over all the earth both now and through eternity (Eph 4:21). He is also preparing to come again. The Ascension enables us to live as God’s people because Jesus is at God’s right hand and the Holy Spirit is with us (or at least will be from next week!)