“Listen, someone’s screaming in agony, fortunately I speak it fluently.” So said the late, great Spike Milligan and you’d be forgiven for wondering what on earth that has to do with the ascension!
Those who have studied languages will know that to have any hope of becoming fluent you have to immerse yourself completely in a language and live somewhere where you will speak and hear the language every day.
In Jesus, God immersed himself in humanity and experienced everything that it means to be human. The ascension completes the incarnation. If the incarnation brought the divine to humanity, then the ascension brings humanity into the very throne-room of heaven. Jesus left his home in heaven to come to us, now he brings humanity home.
Now there is a human voice in heaven. Now God is fluent in ‘human’. God completely understands the language of the human heart; all our hopes, needs, fears and agonies. God completely understands the idioms of human nature: our strengths and our weaknesses.
Jesus brings us back to our true home with our Father and his presence beside him is a living, breathing, scar- bearing reminder of how we come to be there. With Jesus there, in heaven, I have one who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is graven on his hands; my name is written on his heart and I know that, while in heaven he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.
If there are any pictures that really haunt me it’s pictures of young children starving due to famine. The picture is all too clear, limbs with no flesh on them, distended stomachs, eyes which see but don’t see, flies not brushed away and worst of all that atmosphere of hopelessness.
We can see and recognise physical starvation and hopelessness but I wonder what it would be like to look at human souls as God sees them? Would they have signs of starvation too and if they do what would that look like? Would they appear in the form of withered, greedy and selfish personalities or would we see characters with many virtues but missing knowledge of where they came from, where they are going and why they are here in the first place? And who knows what God sees when He looks at your soul and mine.
Now here I think I can help you. If you are a believer He sees you dressed in white because your robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb Rev 7:13-14. How can this be? Well it is just as Peter said in today’s reading, you and I crucified Christ by our sin but God raised Him up, having freed Him from death because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Jesus has the Victory and He washes us clean in His blood!
The name Margaret Thatcher evokes diverse reactions. When I joined the Government Education Department 41 years ago she was the Secretary of State. As a junior official I admired her energy. When I was Principal Private Secretary and then Press Secretary for four Secretaries of State I helped prepare them for meetings with the Iron Lady and then assisted them to regroup when they returned somewhat deflated after their visit to the headmistress’s study.
What I admired most about her as a Prime Minister was her willingness to take responsibility and be accountable for her actions. Her decisions were not about political expediency. She lived her values which were profoundly influenced by her Methodist upbringing.
Jesus took responsibility and was accountable for his actions. His mentoring of his disciples enabled them to grow into responsible leaders of the early church. We are called to live our values and take responsibility as Christians in the workplace as we are to be disciples of Jesus in every walk of life. We need to encourage those who are taking up responsibilities today as church wardens and PCC members.
I recently visited the building where Margaret Thatcher used to be the Secretary of State which is now home for a variety of small businesses. I managed to get access to the room where Margaret Thatcher used to hold court which is now stacked with filing cabinets. The one occupant showed no interest in my comments about the previous famous occupant.
Life moves on, but the legacy of those who are willing to take responsibility continues long after their office is no more. May we embrace responsibility when it comes our way as did Jesus and the disciples.
Miracles come in three groups according to Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Dominican scholar. His last one is this: a miracle is when God does something nature can do, but not in that order: like giving sight to the blind or raising the dead. Nature can make a sighted person blind, but not the other way round. Nature can kill a living thing, but not bring it back to life. How did Jesus do it?
The New Testament tells us that in the person of Jesus, heaven (which is the ‘place’ where God dwells) has come to earth. Where Jesus is, there is a bit of heaven on earth, and the conditions of heaven apply – no sickness, no oppression, no death. When Jesus said, ‘the kingdom of God has come’, he spoke about the rule of God which returns all things and people to their God-ordained place, and that includes healing the sick, driving out evil forces and raising the dead.
Where do heaven and earth meet today? Wherever there is love, the kingdom of God has come. Where people are reconciled with each other, God is present. Whenever we come into the presence of God in prayer, we make a space for heaven on earth. Wherever healing, restoration and reconciliation take place, there heaven meets earth. Sometimes it happens dramatically, sometimes quietly like a seed growing.
We pray for the meeting of heaven and earth every time we pray the Lord’s prayer – ‘your kingdom come, your will be done…’. We are also called to be the answer to this prayer – to be people in whose lives heaven has established a bridgehead into the territory of this earth.
Clearly for St. John, the concept or theme of ‘light’ is an important one in his gospel and its source, Jesus, is depicted as both a Personal being and a symbol of divine instruction and illumination.
In John 1: 5, he writes that ‘The light shines in the darkness’ and the NIV Bible translates the next part of the verse ‘but the darkness has not understood it’. Another equally, acceptable translation would read: ‘but the darkness has not overcome it’. In support of this, it is apparent throughout the history of the Church that when forces of evil and darkness have combined in an attempt to destroy or overcome the ‘light’ (of both the gospel, and the reality of Christ) the light has shone even brighter.
Two years ago I had the privilege of hearing Andrew White, the Vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq, speak of his experiences of leading and shepherding his flock in that city against a backdrop of appalling violence and persecution. It remains an environment where choosing to follow Christ can in many cases literally be a life or death decision. He spoke of how at the beginning of 2010, he baptised thirteen adults, all converts from Islam. Within a week, eleven of the thirteen had been murdered.
Not long afterwards, his church began running an Alpha Course. On ‘week one’ of the course he and his team waited, wondering who might turn up. By the end of the evening, over 900 people had come through the door to enquire about the Christian faith. By week four, approximately 2,700 people were attempting to gain access into the church building.
St. John says ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’.
The reality and enduring promise of the last two thousand years is that the ‘light’ remains with us and will never be extinguished.