This sermon was preached
Readings: Psalm 8; Lk 24:44-53
Left: Garofalo, Ascension of Christ
Below: Sputnik One, 1957
12 1961, news bulletins around the world centred on one man –
Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel in space.
according to some people,
Gagarin was not the 1st but the 4th man in space.
The objections came from so called Biblical scholars
who quoted the Bible to prove that first Elijah
and then Enoch and then Jesus himself,
had previously ascended into heaven.
us would say “so called” Bible scholars
because we wouldn’t read the Bible in that sort of literal way.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly have some trouble with the idea
that if I had been a jet pilot patrolling the skies above the site of the ascension
I could have followed the ascending Christ across the sky.
so, where was he going next?
Where exactly is the Right Hand of God anyway?
An astronaut travelling at the speed of light would still take 30K years
to reach the centre of our local galaxy – is that far enough??
I think most of us would say that this isn’t a very helpful way to treat the story.
actually no more helpful
than the counter claim of the first Soviet Cosmonauts,
who announced that God did not exist
because they had been to the Heavens and he was not there….
Last Thursday was Ascension Day,
and today Kate has read for us the passage telling of Jesus’ ascending into the sky.
If this is not a literal story of space travel, it must be a symbolic story –
but symbolic of what?
It could sound like a retreat –
God came to earth at Christmas,
and then finally gave up at the Ascension and retreated back to heaven,
like a defeated General abandoning the people he came to liberate,.
But that also is to misconstrue the story.
Before he ascends, Jesus says he will be with us for ever –
so this is no abdication or retreat.
The Ascension is not about Jesus going “up up and away”
but about his going “up up and over” –
It is Jesus telling us that his rule, his Kingdom,
is not localised to one time or one place –
he is not simply Lord of Jerusalem and Capernaum in the 1st Century –
his rule is over all people and all time.
heard the story of the little girl
who finished her bedtime prayers one night with the words
“And I’m afraid this is a final goodbye from me, God –
tomorrow we are moving to Liverpool”.
When I lived in Liverpool I was very much aware
that a lot of people seemed to think that it was a God-forsaken place
(Margaret Thatcher for one, as I recall). But they were wrong.
Our God is not a tribal God just of Exeter or Liverpool
or indeed of any one continent or century –
He is Lord over all creation.
And that is the symbolic significance of going up through the clouds –
Christ is King over all.
That is why we sing “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon the Throne”.
Christ is absolutely NOT abandoning the world to sin ands suffering.
Quite the reverse – in his
ascension, Jesus binds earth and heaven together –
he is taking all of human life, which he cares for so deeply,
and bringing it into the very heart of God. (Catherine Taylor)
For Emily, for you, for me, it is Christ’s promise
that ultimately the love of God will be victorious,
not merely in one place and time, but over all the Cosmos, throughout eternity.
That is why the ascension has been described as the
“Festival of the future of the world” (Karl Rahner).
Of course God’s rule over creation is not yet
The ascension does not mean that everyone everywhere
has accepted the Lordship of Christ.
Pope is visiting Auschwitz –
a reminder if ever we needed it –
that Christ’s universal dominion is yet to be fulfilled.
As a human race we remain mired in sin and suffering.
But Christ is on the throne, and his promise will not let us down.
· Even the earthquake cannot drown out the still small voice of God
neither a fatal stabbing nor a gas chamber
nor a cross can defeat God’s love.
An old legend
tells how, once upon a time,
Mary the Mother of Jesus made him a cloak,
not the seamless garment that the soldiers cast lots for at his execution,
but a patchwork cloak, as remarkable as Joseph’s coat of many colours.
Jesus wore it as he travelled and slept in it at night.
When he ascended into heaven,
this was the cloak he wore as he entered into his glory.
One version of the story tells how many years later,
a new arrival in heaven is met by Jesus
who is still wearing this same multi-coloured coat.
The newcomer notices that the coat is now faded and ragged ripped and torn,
and yet had an amazing luminous quality for all this.
He asks Jesus about this cloak and why it was both so tattered and so full of light.
“Every rip and tear represents the unjust treatment of the poor of the earth,
which still tears my heart.
But through each tear shines the light of God’s love.
It has been said that the Cross is permanently erected
in the heart of God –
In other words every single sin and sorrow of humanity
has been taken up by Christ to heaven,
there that it may be set before the eternal love and care of the Lord,
in whom shall be the victory.
So, against this immense cosmic backdrop,
we bring Emily for baptism today.
In baptism we declare that she is accepted and blessed as a child of God.
Jesus says to Emily (and to us all in our baptism)
“I love you, and because I love you,
Nothing less than heaven will do for you”
From this day forth, nothing –
neither life nor death, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8)
And he also gives to Emily (and to all of us in our
a prayer to pray –
“Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name
Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”
That is Emily’s challenge in the years ahead, as it is yours and mine.
called to bring heaven to earth –
to live as sisters and brothers in love, peace and justice –
to join in God’s working of creating heaven on earth –
building an outpost, a foretaste, of Christ’s heavenly Kingdom here on earth.
So let me
offer Emily some words from one of her famous namesakes –
the US poet Emily Dickinson – who wrote
If I can
stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Into his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
Emily, your life will not be in
For Christ has this day claimed you.
He has promised you a place in heaven with him.
And he has called you to share his work of bringing Heaven to earth.
May God bless you, and all God’s children, now and always.