Coming closer

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These weeks leading up to the end of the academic year have a poignancy about them for us as chaplains. We have some students who seek us out to say goodbye after their one, three, or more years here. And the partings are both beautiful and sad. Some keep in touch, which is lovely. Others who we have shared a lot with just disappear without the chance to say goodbye.

We wonder how the students will go on from now. Will the three or so years of study – and the relationships they have made, and the experiences they have had – will all of that remain with them, as a foundation and an inspiration for their lives?

So it’s appropriate that this is also always the time of year when we celebrate the Ascension – the time when Jesus left the disciples after three years of teaching and learning and of sharing their lives together. As Jesus leaves he commissions them – almost like a graduation speech: Now go and share all of this with others – lead them to become my followers – teach them all that I have taught you.

Jesus looks at them not with uncertainty, but with trust. As we often say, this group of people, often slow to catch on, still not quite sure what to make of it all, a real mixture of personalities, strengths and weaknesses – this group were the ones chosen to continue the work of sharing the good news around the world – there was no back up team – no plan B.

We are the successors of those first disciples – we are also part of God’s team, despite all the uncertainties, flaws and lack of preparation that we feel. But I guess for us, as for those first followers, the words that we hang onto are in the promise of Jesus, ‘I will be with you always’.

This is one of my favourite icons, from the Taize community in France. It’s sometimes called the icon of friendship, or Jesus with his friend Abba Menas. Jesus stands next to a rather pale looking Abba Menas, and also has his arm around his shoulders. For me, this image is a constant reminder that Jesus is with us in each situation that we face… his love and his presence are there to support us… we are always working in partnership with him.

As we know, the movement of the ascension is not just about leaving and going up. A week on Sunday we will celebrate the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. We will the picture the Spirit coming down  – the Spirit of Jesus being blown into each of his followers – and then the same Spirit sending them out with the good news – into the street, and into the world.

And alongside these movements there is another movement which is just as important – the movement inwards. We are promised that the Spirit of Jesus is not just with us and alongside us, but also now inside us. The Holy Spirit has been breathed into us. As we go more deeply into our inner selves – into our souls, we can discover the presence of the Holy Spirit there.

Teresa of Avila describes this in a very positive, and perhaps quite a challenging way:

Let us think of our soul as resembling a castle formed of a single diamond, or a very transparent crystal, containing many rooms of which some are above, some below, others at the side. In the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber, in which God and our soul hold their most secret communion. Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of our soul.

So we may imagine the presence of Jesus alongside us, maybe with that image from the icon in our minds. But we also have this promise that he is within us, through the Holy Spirit. The journey we are invited to go on is not just outward, it is inward, as we are led more deeply in prayer, to become more open to that inner presence of Jesus in our lives. And this inner journey is the one which makes possible the outward flow of the life and the love of Jesus through us, as it did the first disciples.

As we sit and quietly breathe, we remember Jesus breathing on the disciples, and his promise to breathe his Spirit into us…

Lord Jesus, may we know your presence alongside us in every situation of our lives. Give us strength and courage, and the support of your love…

Lord Jesus, lead us on our inner journey with you. May we come to know you more and more presence in the depths of our lives, in the centre of our precious and beautiful souls…

Lord Jesus, you call us to work and walk in partnership with you. May your love flow out into the world through our lives…

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