Menu Close
24th May 2020


Passage: Acts 1, verses 1-14


Think about your relationships: the people in your life: Partners, children, parents, friends, colleagues, professional people……quite a long list.
Now narrow it down to those who have been involved in your life for, say, twenty years or more… and think how these relationships have changed through time?

Because relationships do change. They change because life changes and life changes us. In the marriage ceremony you promise to stick together through better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. All of these things will change you and change your relationship.
When you have a baby, that baby is totally dependent on you. But as the child grows up, you have to give them independence. Otherwise you risk destroying the child and the relationship. Relationships which last are relationships which change.

The story of Jesus’ ascension is vivid and dramatic. Wonderful pictures have been painted of Jesus floating off up into the clouds and of God the Father, complete with long white beard, sitting on his throne in heaven, surrounded by angels, waiting to receive Jesus, his Son. There is nothing wrong with these pictures (unless you want to start scientific and historical arguments about whether something like this could possibly have happened or did possibly happen. And I don’t tend to go there.) The question in my mind is what this story is saying about Jesus’ relationship with his followers. Because, whatever actually happened, there came a time when Jesus’ closest friends realised that he was finally gone from their sight for good. He had told them this would happen- that the time would come when they would not see him anymore.

But what was going to happen to their relationship with him? He had changed their lives. Was it all over? Was Jesus to be no more than a collection of memories?

The book of Acts is Luke’s second book and he said of his first-the Gospel of Luke-that “he had written down what Jesus started to do,” implying that, in this second book he will be writing about what Jesus continued to do. So no, there was no cut-off point. His relationship with his followers may have changed but it was not over.

Edmund Banyard, poet, playwright and URC Minister, wrote,
“Lost to sight in the clouds? Taking off, jet propelled like a human rocket to return to-where? Is that how it was, the Ascension? Or…… caught up into all the glory of God and so here.. and everywhere; no longer imprisoned by physical limitations; unseen but not unexperienced.”

People sometimes demand, understandably, that if God exists, why can He not have a physical presence- something we could see and touch and prove for ourselves?
It occurred to me that if God were a physical presence then He would have to be in one place at one time, because that is what being “physical” is all about. So, we would have to make an appointment to see God in a specific place at a specific time. And if we think hospital consultants’ waiting lists are long, how long would it take for one of us to get to see God?

Jesus knew that he could not remain a physical presence with his followers indefinitely. Because while he was a purely physical presence, he was confined to one space and one moment in time. It was only by leaving his disciples and returning to God that he could remain with them wherever they went.
“caught up into all the glory of God… here.. and everywhere; no longer imprisoned by physical limitations…

Today I hope you feel that each in your separate homes, you have met with Jesus. And there will be people in Africa who believe that they have met with Jesus today; people in Australia, people in South America. All over the world there will be men and women who believe that they have encountered Jesus Christ in the place where they are today.
This could not happen if Jesus of Nazareth had remained a physical presence in Judea two thousand years ago. Jesus had warned his disciples that the time would come when they would not be able to see him, but he had also promised that he would be with them always, right to the very end of time. Now, he could be. Ascension Sunday celebrates his living presence with each of us wherever we are.

That is amazing but Edmund Banyard goes still further:
One with the Father, Jesus takes into the Godhead all that it means to be human. And so, I know that I am known by the Almighty; known and understood.
If we believe, as Christianity proclaims, that Jesus came from God, was God, then he brought the reality of God into human life. That is what we sing about at Christmas: Emmanuel-God with us. But now, at ascension, it is the other way around: Jesus is taking the reality of human life into the life of God.
God has known what it is like to be physical. God knows about pain and weariness; fear and betrayal; torture and death.

Many of us can remember the time when you had a bath on Saturday evening and put your best clothes on Sunday morning ready to go to church. And not only your best clothes but your best manners. You used polite language; you did not giggle behind your hand; you did not fidget when the sermon went on for too long; you did not ask awkward questions; you did not admit to feeling angry or despairing. You put on your holiest expression along with your best clothes because you thought this was what God wanted.
But many people found keeping up with God in this way too much for them, especially when their own life was proving very hard and very messy. I cannot be doing with this…

But Jesus took human life as it really was back into the personhood of God. “He is someone who has suffered as we suffer; someone who has been tempted as we are tempted” marvelled an early Christian thinker. God is about real life, real pain, real questions, real doubts. There is no place so bad that God cannot reach you. That is the gift Jesus has given us.

I love working with the children in our Scouting and Guiding groups for their Parade Services. Many of those children have not grown up in the habit of regular church going and have no set ideas on what may be said about God and what may not; what might be OK to do in church and what might not. I get the truth from them. And, with the possible exception of the sweet child who asked me if I had been around when our church was founded ninety years ago, I love what they say, and I find myself learning a lot about God and life and humanity.

Because of Jesus Christ, living a real life in the real world, I know that I am known, by the Almighty; known and understood.

Life is feeling rather bleak at the moment.
Most of us are managing to be brave, to develop coping strategies in the lockdown, to keep in touch with the people we love, to be thankful for what we have got and to spare a thought for those who are far worse off.
But on the edge of our consciousness there is a deep fear, a howling darkness, a looming chaos such as most of us have never known before. And we feel alone, so very alone.

The story of Jesus’ ascension may seem a long way away from where we are right now. We may be tempted to toss it onto the pile of fairy tales and fantasies which have little to say to us when we are living through a horror movie.
But what Jesus brings, even into the horror movie, is the real and eternal presence of God in the place where we are.
He offers no sweet platitudes; no self-defining one-liners; but only the promise that he will never leave us.
And, because, as man he has known for himself the deep fear, the howling darkness, the looming chaos; and because, as God, he can create love and life; purpose and beauty even out of darkness and chaos, he can get us through this.

In my first book, wrote Luke, I wrote of what Jesus Christ began to do. Now the story goes on. It is not over. See you next week…..