Luke 24.44-end, Acts 1.1-11
Looking up Ascension Day sermons on my computer I discovered that I’ve preached a number here, and so I’ve probably said most of what can be said about the background to the Ascension – the significance of mountains and links with OT epiphanies like those to Moses and Elijah on Sinai and Horeb, the need to explain why the resurrection appearances of Christ ceased after a certain period of time (40 days, says Luke in Acts), providing us with a hinge event between Easter and Pentecost, preparing us for the coming of the Holy Spirit…. As Richard Croft said on Sunday, I’m preaching to the converted – you already know all that background stuff.
But last year I broke with tradition. We celebrated the Ascension on the Sunday close to the day and I borrowed Tango, a disreputable looking orange bird puppet from Chris Smith to illustrate what I wanted to say. Lockdown was starting to get to me, I guess! I wanted to talk about learning to fly. Tango was a fledgling and he was nervous about the whole flying business. It seemed and still seems to me that the Ascension was what launched Jesus followers into the possibility of flying, that is to say, leaving the familiar, launching into the unknown and becoming witnesses to the resurrection as we see recorded in Acts. It’s obviously bound up with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but it starts before then because at the end of the Ascension, at the end of Luke’s gospel he notes that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy; already the Holy Spirit was at work.
What enables birds to fly? It’s in their genes (and I’m not talking about trousers!) What is it about the Ascension that prepared the disciples for the launching out we see after Pentecost? One way of putting it is to say that through Christ’s death and resurrection a new gene entered human DNA. One of the early church Fathers, Irenaeus put it this way, ‘God became human so that we might become divine’. Another image which I rather like, especially with all the talk about passports, visas, entry requirements coming up around Brexit, is that as Christians we have dual citizenship. We are British citizens and we are citizens of heaven. The Ascension is when that reality first started to dawn on us. When Christ was raised from the dead it did something to our humanity; that was raised too, so much so that at the Ascension we too are caught up with Christ, right into the heart of the Trinity. That’s where we now dwell. That’s what heaven is about. We are citizens of earth, but also citizens of heaven. Jesus said to his disciples when he was preparing them for his death, ‘I am going to prepare a place for you, so that you may be where I am’. And he did and we are.
We have roots in a place other than our current context. We have an identity other than what is in our UK passport. We are people who are fully earthed, whilst also able to extend our range beyond what we can experience through our senses. Our flying, as it were, might include extending the range of people whom we love, or enlarging our prayer life, or spending more time at home, or simplifying our possessions or learning a new skill or being more generous……really, whatever signals some resurrection life emerging.
Like those disciples gathered round Jesus on the mountain, let’s look up and look out for what is in store for us as we hold dual citizenship and practise flying.
Christine Bainbridge May 2021