The following was preached before a musical offering by the Children’s and Youth Choirs, which took the place of the sermon.
Last Thursday was Ascension Day. Nowadays the Ascension passes without much comment. I don’t expect many of you rose from your beds on Thursday morning and exclaimed, “My goodness, it’s Ascension Day. I must go to church.” When I was a kid it was different. Daylight lasts longer there. We would pile into buses for some obscure little church in the English countryside where we would sing Evensong, have a huge picnic, play cricket in the evening light, and explore whatever there was to explore. Then we would ride back on the buses, arrive home in the dark, and go straight to bed because, after all, it was school the next day.
It would be impossible to imagine such a celebration of Ascension Day. Yet the first lesson today was the story of how Jesus was seen by his disciples for the last time and the Gospel is John’s reflection and what it means now to know ourselves to be in relationship with God and the Lord.
Why didn’t he simply stay with the disciples? Why isn’t Jesus walking around in the here and now like he did then? Wouldn’t it be easier to believe in Jesus if we could actually see him? And in our questions comes the immediate answer: Jesus was no twentieth-century guru reveling in the praise and admiration of his followers. Jesus did not see himself as an end in himself, a cultic figure, subject to the hero worship of his followers.
No. Jesus understood all about our tendency to move into idol mode at the first opportunity. He hadn’t risen from the dead just for some happy-clappy disciples in an obscure little country in the Middle East. The Resurrection, the astounding news that love wins in the end, is for everyone. The Cross and the Resurrection were for the whole world. And if it is true that Christ has overcome death, that Jesus will be with us for all time, that Christ is present in our broken world, then the only way we can grasp that was for the Jesus the disciples knew to disappear. It was time to take the trainer wheels off the bike and let us try pedaling for ourselves! Or, more truly, pedal with the Holy Spirit holding the seat – just out of sight.
At a wedding we read that marriage is a sign, a symbol of the union between Christ and the Church. That’s life without the trainer wheels, life post-Ascension–a world where we see Christ not up in the sky, or in a pulpit (rarely in a pulpit), or leading a church–but a world where we know that when love and kindness are exchanged we are with the risen Lord. A world where Christ dwells in the heart. “And this is eternal life,” says Jesus, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” And it is for everyone. So we pray, “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior has gone before.”