Sermon for the Feast of The Ascension
8th May 2016
Holy Cross Church Cromer Street
A Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension
The Ascension allows us to see the life and death and resurrection of Jesus as one complete offering. Its legacy is broad and far-reaching, namely the establishment of what the New Testament has called ‘the Kingdom of God’ on earth, which is a Kingdom of love and of mercy. And this Kingdom is realised in direct relation to the complimentary vision of Heaven, that state of being to which none of us have had direct experience, and yet which nonetheless still encourages us to see our life here on earth in direct relation to it. We affirm this vision in the Lord’s Prayer when we speak to God and say ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. And on God’s part there is for ever a world transformed into his likeness, where the particular mark of the new Kingdom is radically inclusive - the one which speaks of mercy toward all people and understanding in and among them. The simple ceremony of the new (Muslim) Mayor of London’s swearing-in ceremony at Southwark Cathedral was a sign for our times and related very much to the bringing together and the holding together of human difference. And in and among these promises is the acknowledgement of the existence and the influence of the human and the divine, and of the bringing together of the many in the one essential identity and the one true purpose. The message is clear: we all belong to one another, we all need one another, and we find God in one another. In deep human understanding, whose roots lie in an understanding of the nature and purposes of God, we hold out against paralysing fear and we challenge the malign effects conflict and division. This plays itself out both at the personal level and in our society. Sadiq Khan’s choice of a Christian Cathedral venue for his swearing in to a multicultural, multi ethnic and multi-religious London was therefore very telling and significant.
Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led thy captivity captive; thou hast received gifts among men, yea, among the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell with them. Ephesians 4.8
The mixing and merging of the divine and the human is symbolised in a small ceremony embedded in this Eucharist as the priest, preparing the Eucharistic offering, pours a small amount of water into the chalice he has filled with wine. These elements symbolise the divinity and the humanity of Christ. And as he does this, the priest says these words “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. The water does not dilute. The coming of Christ brings about the meeting point between the divine and human realms, and also the heavenly and the earthly; which have in him mixed and merged; and produced the bright glimmer which we have called GLORY and the influence which is what we have called HOLY. The great prayer of worship sums it all up. It is called the Sanctus:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Hosanaah in the Highest!
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,
Hosannah in the Highest!
The Ascension is the outpouring of the glory not only of God but also of humanity and the unlikely possibilities that may emerge out of human lives like ours and others. God has become like us in Jesus Christ so that we may now share in the divine likeness, which for the first time becomes accessible to us in Him.
“Where there is no vision; the people perish” says the writer of Proverbs in 29.18. The Ascension grants us that vision, maybe only partially expressed, but in actual fact opening up for us, a new vision of what John the Divine called “New Heavens and a New Earth”. And the coming of this vision is very important in our own times. If we are living in an age where we are defined merely as consumers, sharers of basic information rather than conversationalists; where increasingly we see ourselves as subject to forces and influences beyond our control, and where language is abbreviated and human experience subject to so many mechanical transactions, then we need a new vision which embraces us in all our humanity and which is possessed of radical compassion and where human dialogue issues out of a deep courtesy. The opening up of the idea of the Christ who ‘leads captivity captive’, the creation of ‘new heavens and a new earth’ brings us to the place where life is no longer seen as pertaining to the old dull flat, two dimensional existence, but one which has become bright with light and multi- dimensional and multifaceted. This is the same God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus ...2 Corinthians 4.6.