30th May 2019
It seems appropriate that we’re thinking about the Ascension today, at a time when lots of students – and some staff – are experiencing big transitions. Some final year students are coming in to say their goodbyes. Others are still finishing assignments or sitting their exams.
Some are already looking back with nostalgia – and looking ahead to an uncertain future with trepidation. How will they move on from this place? What will the future hold – and who will they share it with? It’s a very particular time – intense, uncertain, awash with possibilities.
I think that the disciples must have been feeling some of that following the ascension of Jesus. They had shared the most amazing three years together, leading up to the heart wringing rollercoaster of the cross and the resurrection. They had begun to get used to Jesus being with them again, in a different way – and then he makes it clear to them that he is leaving them once again – and he goes. Now what? I wonder how they felt as they returned to Jerusalem and went back up to the room where they were staying. Did they talk about what had happened? Or did they sit there in silence, dazed, thoughtful, and full of emotion?
Jesus explains to them that this wasn’t the end – it was the beginning of a new chapter. In one way he won’t be with them, but in another way he will be even closer to them: his Spirit – his breath – will be in them. And so they wait and pray, trying to be open to what will come.
The biggest transition of all is made by Jesus himself… From being a man on earth, bound by place and time, to being ‘lifted up’, taken fully into the life of God – and then at Pentecost a few days later, ‘coming down’ to be with his followers again through the Spirit. Now he is free from all physical constraints – able to be in all places and through all times – able to be here with us now.
If we can get our head round that, and feel that it is true for us now, then it could make a huge difference when we face times of transition in our life. When everything seems to be changing and the future fills us with uncertainty and anxiety, we have the promise of Jesus; ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ If we can put our trust in that promise, and learn to rest in his unseen but very real presence, somewhere beneath the unsettled surface of our lives, then we can know that we are loved with an unchanging love, and that we will never go into any situation alone, because he will always be with us.
I love this icon that I saw in Taizé, of Jesus and Abbot Mena. The original came from Egypt in the 6th Century. The striking thing for me is where Jesus’ hand is resting… Maybe there were times when Jesus did this with Peter, or Thomas, or Mary… But now he can do it with all of us – this is the deeper reality that Ascension Day makes possible – the presence of Jesus with us each step of our way.
Imagine for a moment some situation that we face – maybe something new, a change, maybe something which causes us apprehension… In that place, can we sense Jesus with us, his arm around our shoulders…?
Lord Jesus, open our inner awareness to your presence with us – now – and in every situation that we face. We bring to you our own anxieties about what lies ahead: help us to trust in you…
We pray for those we know who are facing times of transition, or uncertainty. We pray for those sitting exams or finishing assignments and full of anxiety… Lord, may they sense your loving presence holding them, and leading them on…
We think of those first followers. Lord, as they put their trust in you, may we be open to your Spirit carrying us forward, and sending us out to make your love known through our lives…