May 30, 2019

Ascension Day – Revd Sally Bedborough

Today we find ourselves at the beginning of a certain pocket of time. This period begins with our marking of this Ascension Day and it concludes when we reach the day of Pentecost in 10 days’ time. This is a particular period of time in our church calendar.

It’s a time of promise; it’s a time of waiting

The promise is to the disciples who, just a few weeks before, were bereft following Jesus’ death; but who were then amazed as Jesus appeared to them three days after his death, in his resurrected body. As he did so often in his life, he turned expectations upside down. He was not dead, but risen.

This evening we focus on the account of Jesus disappearing again. It’s hard to imagine this was any easier for the disciples than the first time of their parting was. But they were blessed by Jesus before he left them, and they were given the promise of the coming HS. This promise seems to have made all the difference. We read they did as they were told....that didn’t always happen! And they did as Jesus bid them do: they remained, they abided in Jerusalem until His promise came to fruition. This occasion of Jesus leaving them was very different from the first time. The first time was at his death and the disciples were disappointed, broken, distressed and dis-empowered. This second time of leaving was so different in that they remained where they were and focused on the promise of the coming Holy Spirit. What made that difference lies in the qualities of waiting that they gleaned from the one they followed: the qualities of waiting that Jesus lived out in his earthly life and beyond.

Waiting is often hard. But life consists of times of waiting, and how we use those times is a hallmark of our faith and beliefs. Before we reflect this evening on our own times of waiting, let’s turn to Jesus and notice the hallmarks that identified his waiting.....

Firstly, He waited silently and remarkably.

The outline of Jesus ministry spans only three years. Between the birth narratives and the beginning of his ministry, we know of only one story from those interim years. And that was the time Jesus got lost in Jerusalem at the Passover, when he drove his parents frantic with worry. When they eventually found him in the temple, there he was, sitting with the temple teachers, listening to them, asking them questions and passing on what he knew of God at that point. This gives us our first insight into how we can wait in a godly way. Just as Jesus did, we might be reminded today to stay close to God, to learn, to meditate upon God’s ways and to pass on what we know of him.

Secondly, He waited actively.

Come the time Jesus’ ministry began, we see an active style of waiting: we read of his words, his questions, his actions, the healings he performed. If we focus particularly on the betrayal of Jesus, and on his suffering and his death, we realise that he was no passive victim. His suffering and death were actively bringing about a pathway to God for us.

Amongst other things, I learned a new word when I did my theological training and that was docetism. Docetism is a heresy; translated from the Greek, the word means ‘to seem’. It states that Jesus knew that he was God, that he foresaw his death, but also his resurrection and ascension. Therefore, and this is what made the teaching quite memorable to me: docetism can be described as God ‘with his fingers crossed’ - that implies that Jesus didn’t actually suffer as we do, and that makes a world of difference to us. If we have a God in Christ who knows what waiting is like, who knows what pain is like, who has experienced our humanity from the inside, then we are accompanied and strengthen by that, knowing that there is life beyond it all. If we do not have such a god, then Jesus’ suffering and death were merely enactments - not the real thing; hence the phrase, ‘God with his fingers crossed’. Jesus’ waiting for the inevitable betrayal, torture, ridicule and death was in all ways human and active in that it achieved an immense reward. A way actively forged through pain and death to the hope of resurrection.

Thirdly, His waiting was undergirded by Gods promise. The knowledge of his sonship enabled Jesus to teach in the temple at an early age. It enabled him to wait until the right time for his ministry to begin, it enabled him to wait and to wait actively though his betrayal by a friend, through an agonising death on the cross, and throughout the process of bidding farewell to his earthly life.

All these forms of waiting can inspire us in our waiting. Whether we are waiting for an ending or a new beginning, for healing, for strength, for comfort, for mercy, forgiveness or for loving presence, we wait armed with Christ’s promise to us: the Holy Spirit will be alongside us and within us, giving us all we need in our waiting. Our waiting may be uncomfortable, unremarkable and silent; but the waiting that is armed with confidence in God’s promises is an active form of waiting.

Throughout this period between Ascension Day and Pentecost we are invited to pray for 5 particular individuals who are known to us. We might pray for their healing whether in body, mind or spirit. Let us now keep some time of silence as we wait, considering the promises we are given. Like those first disciples, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit; and as we bring those situations for which we are waiting before God, and as we bring those people for whom we are praying before God, let us do so with an awareness of Christ’s silent waiting, his active waiting and his waiting that was undergirded by God’s promises. Amen.