Our minister Trevor Dixon led worship on Sunday June 1st and we began by singing ‘Come on and celebrate,’ followed by ‘Jubilate everyone’. The second hymn always reminds me of my late husband Stephen who would enjoy us singing the words faster and faster. Trevor led the prayers of praises, confession and the prayer for the day. The first reading was from 2 Kings 2v1-12 and described the taking up of Elijah into heaven. The second reading was from Hebrews 10v5 about Jesus the high priest. The reading for the Sunday after Ascension described the Ascension of Jesus described by Luke in Acts 1v6-14.
Trevor began his sermon by saying that the Feast of Ascension was not always kept in the same way as Christmas, Easter or Pentecost, which used to be known more as Whitsunday. In the Roman Catholic Church they even have holidays for some Saints as well; apparently some days even have 2 saints! The Christian year covers the life of Jesus, his birth, death, resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. We in the Methodist Church can gloss over Ascension day, which is always celebrated on a Thursday (sometimes in the past giving schools a day off for those who attended worship;) as it was 40 days after Easter and Pentecost was 10 days after the Thursday. The Ascension described Jesus going up into heaven and it has caused problems in the 21st Century, who wonder where ‘heaven’ is. Apparently Kruschev, the Russian Head of State asked if astronauts had seen God and as they had not seen God, then he did not believe.
In the Roman Catholic Church the conception of Jesus is also celebrated on Lady Day. Some people thought of the death on the cross, as being the time the ‘God part’ of Jesus which came at his conception, left him; a form of heresy; they refuted the fact that all of Jesus had died on the cross, so all could rise again. Jesus’ resurrection body was a different kind of finite body that had to be ended. Elijah was taken up into heaven in a cloud and Jesus was overcome by the cloud of the presence of God and taken from the sight of the disciples. The cloud of the presence of God would have reminded them of the cloud of God’s presence guiding the Israelites in the Wilderness, with fire at night. When the temple of God was dedicated the whole house was filled with the cloud of God’s presence. At the Transfiguration the cloud of God covered Jesus and the disciples heard the voice of God confirming Jesus as his son. When Jesus is going to the Father he is enveloped in the divine presence of the cloud bringing to an end his time on earth, so that there could be an ending for the disciples to see. The ending was needed so there could be a new beginning.
Trevor said that as a minister he had to move round the country, and he was followed by his mother who visited him by train on her own; she preferred to be independent and travel by train. Sometimes when he waved her off he wondered if he had seen her for the last time. Jesus had to go; the writer to the Hebrews explained that Jesus needed to sacrifice his life through hanging on the cross to complete his work and now he would sit at God’s right hand side. Trevor reminded us of the term in the Methodist Church, when those retiring from full time work make a request to ‘sit down’, after 40 years in the church or at age 65. When they ‘sit down’ their work is completed. In the same way Jesus had completed what God had sent him to do and he could rest in the knowledge his job had been well done.
Now was the new beginning. Jesus sacrifice was made once and for all and once Jesus had been lost to view in the divine cloud and now intercedes for us by being there. As he has experienced life as we do, he is well qualified to intercede on our behalf. Now the disciples have 10 days to wait for the Holy Spirit to come in power and might at Pentecost. Unlike Elisha who tore his clothes in distress when Elijah was taken from his sight, the disciples return to Jerusalem to pray together and prepare for the coming gift. There was a sense of anticipation of the coming Holy Spirit who would be set free now Jesus has left them and bring them power and truth, so they can live in his strength. The Holy Spirit will bring the real presence of God in their lives. That Holy Spirit is not inactive now, so Trevor asked that we may know that presence in our lives, as he is with us now and forever.
We then sang ‘O for a heart to praise our God’ and Trevor led the intercessions and began the prayers in preparation for receiving communion and we shared the peace together. We sang ‘Father who in Jesus found us’ before we received the bread and wine. As our church is being refurbished with chairs, Trevor and our worship leader Christine distributed the bread to us where we were sitting and we all took the bread together doing it in remembrance of Jesus. We then took the wine as we received it acknowledging that Jesus’ blood was shed for each one of us. Our service concluded as we sang, ‘I the Lord of sea and sky.’ It was a worshipful service.