Ascension Day - Lunchtime and Evening Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    Acts 1.1-11; Daniel 7.9-14; Luke 24.44-53; Acts 1.12-14

Those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, after their night-time balcony meeting, cannot bear it to end, cannot bear that moment to come in which they would have to say goodnight, goodbye. Juliet speaks for all of us who’ve experienced the pain of the long goodbye

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow

That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Jesus had given the disciples due warning.  He would have to leave them, but the Father would not leave them comfortless.  The forty days between the resurrection and the ascension, which we celebrate today, must have been wonderful but they were a temporary experience, this was not how the rest of the life of the disciples of Jesus was going to be lived.  These Easter days had to come to end and something different, in some ways something better must begin, but even that something better must be waited for, prepared for.

And so as we heard in the Gospel reading the disciples went with Jesus as far as Bethany.  The tradition is that this was the Mount of Olives, the place of the Garden of Gethsemane, the place in which they’d prayed together so often, the place where Jesus was betrayed by one of their number and the place from which, for the first time, Jesus had been taken from them.  But then it was by force.  There was a kiss and then the soldiers and the guards were on top of them and Jesus was hauled away.

Now it becomes a place of another parting.  But this time it is so different.

‘Lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.’

Luke describes it with gentleness and beauty.  He was not taken, he withdrew; he was not forced but carried into heaven.  But now they were on their own what were they to do?

Before they’d headed together to the mountain, Jesus had given them a clear instruction.

‘Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

They were to remain and to wait, they were to wait for clothing, they were to wait and pray, to pray for the kingdom.

These are special days, the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost, days that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York encourage people throughout the church to use to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ to use the time wisely and to use the time as did Mary and the eleven.

We’ll hear at the end of this Eucharist the final part of the reading with which the service began, the second account of the ascension of Jesus that St Luke gives to the church.  And we’re told that on their return to Jerusalem the eleven

‘were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.’

The church was being formed in prayer as the disciples with Mary stayed in the city and prayed and prayed and prayed.

I’m delighted that we have in the nave a giant pair of praying hands, the work of the sculptor, Nick Fiddian Green.  Nick has entitled his work ‘Searching for God : Almighty hands’ but for me they represent that community of prayer that is the church, that is us, praying as Jesus taught us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come.’ This sculpture can encourage us in these days of prayer, these ten days of prayer to pray.

And to pray for what?  Well, for the coming of the kingdom.  And what will that kingdom be like?  Daniel gives us one vision of the kingdom but there’s another way of looking at it.  It is William Temple who sums up the kingdom for me - ‘Power in complete subordination to love’.

The kingdom for which we pray will not look like the kingdoms humanity creates in which people struggle for power and prestige and influence, kingdoms in which there is a deficit of vision, kingdoms in which there is an absence of true leadership.  We’re looking not to the models around us but to the model we have in Christ – power in complete subordination to love.  As we shape our hands like these great hands we pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ in which the power of love is the power of the cross, in which broken bread and wine outpoured can be kingdom food to feed the hungry who look for something different. Our prayer is simply this

Thy kingdom come for the poor,

thy kingdom come for the sick,

for the hungry,

the despised,

the excluded,

the hated,

the rejected,

the powerless,

thy kingdom come for all for whom Jesus came,

thy kingdom for you, thy kingdom for me,

thy kingdom for us.

May thy kingdom come, Lord, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.