O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Risen, ascended Lord, as we rejoice at your triumph, fill your Church on earth with power and compassion, that all who are estranged by sin may find forgiveness and know your peace, to the glory of God the Father.
A reading from Acts
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’
So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
Acts 1:15–17, 21–26
1 Blessed are they who have not walked
in the counsel of the wicked, •
assembly of the scornful.
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord •
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 Like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, •
whatever they do, it shall prosper.
4 As for the wicked, it is not so with them; •
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not be able to stand in the judgement, •
nor the sinner in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, •
but the way of the wicked shall perish.
If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
1 John 5:9–13
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Sermon on Sunday after Ascension
Today is the Sunday after the Ascension. I don’t think the Ascension is a well-known christian festival. It came into the foreground for me when Bishop Michael came to the diocese. He had organised a eucharist over at Ozzleworth on a beautiful Ascension evening. It was quite an occasion, as some of the clergy and readers had been invited to enjoy a repast at the “big house” afterward. We got to know each other better over the meal, Bishop Michael essentially introducing himself to this deanery. — So you can see why this particular holy day holds some warm memories for me. But I must return to the subject matter – Ascension.
This notion of rising is something that we all know in our lives, isn’t it? We all want to better ourselves – to get on in the world, as they used to say – to rise above the crowd and make our mark. This is a natural understanding of ascending, like in that verse describing the angels ascending and descending around the Son of Man.
This lifting up is true of ourselves, but it also describes our hopes, doesn’t it? Don’t we all want to lift our hopes high not just for ourselves, but also for those around us? I don’t think every one of us is so selfish that we don’t have hopes for those around us. Certainly this is true for parents as they contemplate their children. Brothers and sisters hope for better lives for their siblings, don’t they? Even if you don’t get on with your family, you don’t really wish them ill, do you?
Now what do you hope for on behalf of your friends and neighbours? Certainly we wish them well, don’t we? We know them for the greater part, and know that they would appreciate rising above the mass of humanity in some way and so we hope for them. However, you might understand why people don’t wish the stranger well. We just have to remember the story of the Samaritan, don’t we?
These thoughts have all arisen because of a comment on a controversy in the United States. The chaplain of Congress has been at the centre of a dispute, one which, I think, is central to being human, that being which lives and moves in the midst of others – the controversy arose because the Jesuit chaplain ‘Conroy had prayed that lawmakers would [and I quote] “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.” [and then the commentator went on to say,] Oh-oh! Speaker Paul Ryan, also a Catholic, muscled in, according to Conroy, saying: “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”’
The commentary went on to talk about the fundamentally political nature of all life, cenobitic or eremitic, in the midst of society or as a hermit cut off from everyone. But that is not why I brought up Mr Conroy’s predicament. It was his aspirations, how he wanted all to ascend. He wanted all to rise above the mire of poverty or hardship. The prayer was that everyone should benefit. Isn’t this what our christian love is all about?
Is this a political agenda? No, I would say it is hope in the ascendent, wouldn’t you? Isn’t this what everyone wants – that all will benefit from each other? A political agenda is when we prescribe just how we would accomplish our hopes. The capitalist sees the hope being attained through the capitalisation of work by those with foresight and money to invest and risk all. The communist sees the hope achieved by the communal ownership of all things and shared work. Both political agenda hope in the same loving care of all within society, but they work it out so very differently from each other, don’t they?
When we hope for the ascension of humanity, when we pray for the ascension of humanity, we are not politically motivated. No, we are driven by the Lord, our Lord who rose into the heavens to sit at the Father’s right hand, who promised us the Holy Spirit as a comforter in our despair at his crucifixion. Our aspirations are holy, without prejudice and programme. – Well, if there is a programme, the scheme is love; and as we all know love is all encompassing and open, without any artifice of plan and skullduggery.
Love has to be the highest form of ascent for human being. Is there anything else that can overcome any of the usual barriers between people? The total giving of self to another lifts us up from the muck of our busy and too-often self-centred lives, where cloying narcissism obscures all beauty and altruism, where obdurate material aims tend to smother us.
We ascend through love. The heights we rise to are magnificent, in fact they are infinite when we love God. The constraints of personality and history are burst apart when the Other becomes the focus of our attention and our care. We ascend to new levels through this thoughtfulness for others. Isn’t this the summit which is our goal? Isn’t this the heaven of hearts in love? Hasn’t the Church always pointed us in that direction? Surely, we must agree, this has to be the locus of our ascension.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ is what the theologian calls a mythos through which we capture meaning. The theologian would also say that the Ascension of Jesus Christ is a potent symbol for the believer.
The believer can use this symbol to understand where she is in the world, to understand how he is in the world. This where and how allows us to take our direction on the journey of life.
When we confess that Jesus “ascended to the right hand of the Father” where he is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we mark out the dimensions of our world and how we want to live in it. When we ascend through love, our world is limitless and without a limiting plan. We “let it be”, as the song goes, and our only thought is to keep the barriers down. – It is ever so simple, at least for the believer.
I have been reading in the missal lately, and there the daily antiphons continually raise our hopes in this the season between Easter and Pentecost. The resurrection is to inspire us to live and work for the Kingdom of Heaven. Our aspirations are found in the facts of our faith which are reflected in the antiphons.
Those antiphons inform our lives, repeating the mystery of the first-fruits of the resurrection for our lives. No longer will the leaven of malice infect us, but rather the love of God will innoculate us and keep us healthy as we take the medicine of immortality in the eucharist.