The Hope of Ascension Day, Thursday, 21st May

More reasons for hope

Last month, I suggested that Easter gives us hope. In the face of something as awful as the coronavirus pandemic, God reveals himself in his son, struggling for breath on a wooden cross, and dying as an innocent man. I reminded us that at every moment of our lives, especially in our struggles and pain, wherever God is, it’s not somewhere else. That’s consoling, certainly, but there’s another element to this hope. It’s to be found in the next part of the Christian story, the strange event called the Ascension which takes place forty days after Easter. It marks Jesus’ return to heaven.

Many funerals, including those which have taken place recently under restricted conditions, will have included Jesus‘ words, ‘‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.’ Jesus then tells his disciples, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ And that’s where the Ascension comes in. Perhaps you’ve been at a funeral and been comforted by these words. They cannot come true, however, unless Jesus returns to the Father to prepare a place for his followers, and that return takes place with any fanfare, as recorded in a few words: ‘as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight’.

All the great events of Christianity have been celebrated in paintings. The Ascension, however, isn’t an easy one. Below is a detail of one painting from the 17th century, a literal depiction of what happened. It looks odd to modern eyes, even laughable, but it’s telling us an

Detail from The Ascension of Christ by Adriaen van Overbeke, c.1516

 

important truth: Jesus goes back to the Father in human form, including the scars which life has given him. He has overcome death, but the marks of the suffering that led to his death are not erased. Instead, they are taken into heaven and will remain there for eternity. Why does this give us hope? Because the Ascension assures us that in life and in death, God receives us as we are, including our scars and bruises. We don’t have to deny that life has beaten us up in order to be accepted; there’s no pretence with God, only reality, and healing, and hope.

I wish I could be talking to you face to face about all this, in one of the pubs of the benefice, or in the Vicarage, or in one of the churches. I’d love to hear what you make of the Christian story, whether you believe it or are infuriated by it (as I was for many years), or don’t know what to think. For now, that’s not possible, but one day......

Take care,

Donald

Revd Dr Donald McFadyen,

Vicar designate of the Warmington Benefice


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