WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
Welcome to worship on this Sunday before Ascension Day. Television has certainly been hit by COVID-19, and repeats are running rampant! And yes, Major Peter did take a look at the theme of Jesus’ Ascension a couple of weeks ago, but today isn’t a repeat!
As Peter hinted then, the Ascension and its associated ideas is a rich theme that we haven’t always looked at a great deal in this country, and especially in The Salvation Army.
So today we’re taking a further look at this multi-facetted story in three parts :
PART 1 : Ascending - the Past
PART 2 : Preparing - the Future
PART 3 : Living - the Present
CONGREGATIONAL SONG – SONG BOOK 227 – “LOOK, YE SAINTS, THE SIGHT IS GLORIOUS”
Here is a great hymn of the Christian Church for celebrating the Ascension, and a great song to commence our worship. In this film it’s provided by a Canadian Salvation Army corps, Oshawa Temple.
The words are there, so do sing along!
Our Lord has returned to his home in heaven.
He is seen no more on earth.
Yet he lives - and is with us now and for all eternity.
We are in the presence of our ascended Lord.
We celebrate the mystery of our glorious King.
Ascending Christ, returning to your beginning,
you take the joy and anguish of human struggle into the presence of God.
Intercede for us this day, that the breath of God
may fill the emptiness you leave among us
and we may sense today the glory which now is yours. (adapted from “Seasons and Celebrations”)
PART 1 : ASCENDING - THE PAST
Bible Reading – Acts 1:4-14 (New International Version)
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
6 Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Acts 1 verse 9 …..
“After (Jesus) said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
Do we think of Jesus being somewhere in heaven physically “up there” while we’re on the earth “down here”?
While they seek to express some beautiful truths, the literalism of children’s hymns such as …
“There’s a home for little children above the bright blue sky”
doesn’t really help us to understand what’s going on at the moment of the ascension.
Jesus, the Son of God … the King of the Universe, without whom nothing has been made that was made, (as John reminds us at the beginning of his gospel) …
Jesus had for around 33 years willingly laid aside his rightful claims to his Father’s glory,
to come and share our human life, from birth to death,
in every human experience,
tempted and tested in every respect like as we are, yet without sin,
(as the writer to the Hebrews puts it).
This he had done out of his Father’s love,
being willingly subject to his Father’s will to also die in our place,
taking the weight of our sin and failure and shortcoming and disobedience to God
on his own sinless shoulders,
to be a sacrifice paying the price of our sin …
standing condemned in our place so that we might go free.
Having tasted rejection and terrible pain and death,
he had then been raised to glorious life by God’s power
to show the new life that we might also experience
and to show that death is not the end and not the final arbiter.
And now the time had come to leave this earthly life
and return to his Father’s glory, wherever that is, and however it might look exactly.
The followers who had shared his ministry of healing
and loving and teaching and transforming lives for three years needed to see this departure.
They had to know that here was the definite moment
when they would not see him physically any longer,
but that this crucial period of their apprenticeship was over ,
and now they were to be as it were little Christs … Christians,
his presence, his hands, his feet, his words, his loving in the world.
They would not do this alone,
for they would have something even greater than his physical presence with them.
As they had already been told by him, even if they had yet to fully understand it,
he would pray the Father that he would send them the gift of the Counsellor,
the Holy Spirit, to be with them for ever.
There would be no place, no moment,
however far they journeyed in his name,
however far they were scattered from each other,
whatever they were called to face,
where the power and the presence of Jesus would not be with them
through the infilling of the Holy Spirit,
whom they would come to call “the Spirit of Jesus”.
AND ALL OF THESE PROMISES HOLD GOOD FOR US, HIS FOLLOWERS, IN THIS DAY AND AGE TOO!
CONGREGATIONAL SONG – SONG BOOK 146 -“JESUS, GOOD ABOVE ALL OTHER”
Here is Song Book 146 in a film from the Salvation Army USA Western Territory, part of their Song Book Devotional Series. The song is introduced by Kevin Larsson with some comments scripted by Commissioner Alex Hughes.
It’s a great song to follow the thoughts we’ve just shared, as it talks about those past years when Jesus came to share our human life, and how now, through his Spirit, he is beside us as we serve today.
PART 2 : PREPARING - THE FUTURE
And Jesus did indeed make this departure, in his ascension.
As he ascended, he had another task in mind too, which is described in our second reading this morning …..
Bible Reading – John 14:1-3 (New International Version)
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Last weekend saw the celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day – “Victory in Europe Day”, the day in 1945 which marked the end of the war in Europe.
That war affected every aspect of life. As a teenager, my Mum was evacuated to escape the terrible bombing of Hull, to the relative safety of Malton in North Yorkshire.
There, for the first few weeks she resided in a true mansion as, with other youngsters she resided in the splendour that is Castle Howard!!!
The King James translation, still so familiar to many of us talks about there being
“many mansions in the Father’s house”.
That older translation isn’t too not helpful if it suggests living in some kind of glorious
isolation and grandeur as the Lord of the manor or in a stately home!
But then of course, it doesn’t say that …
it talks about the fact that our heavenly “accommodation” will actually be “in my Father’s house”,
and so more recent translations generally talk about the many “rooms” or “dwelling places”
in the Father’s house … there is room for all!
Archbishop William Temple in his classic “Readings in St. John’s Gospel” spoke about another possible slant on what the original language is saying when he talks about “resting places”.
In those days prosperous travellers agents would go ahead, they would seek out, prepare a place in one of the resting places along the road, and then return to accompany, to take the ones for whom they were responsible to this prepared lodging.
This is a lovely thought,
that at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, at the end of our obedience to the Father’s will, there will be a place prepared for us, somewhere with our name on it. In the words of General Albert Orsborn in that classic song …..
“Bring me at last to see the courts of God, that city fair, and find MY name is written there”
OR, as the songwriter had in an earlier draft, that equally amazing thought …..
“Bring me at last to see the courts of God, that city fair, and find that I’m expected there”.
Jesus, in our reading speaks, then, about “preparing a place” for us.
There is a sense in which the most important way in which a place is prepared is by him being allowed to continually prepare US for the place.
We spoke earlier about Jesus sharing our earthly life, and the favourite carol, “Away in a manger”,
has the quite far-reaching prayer in it …
“and fit us for heaven to be with thee there”.
One of the best ways in which Jesus prepares a place for us is to prepare us for the place!
Jesus said that this place is where we might be “with him”.
And to be fit to be in his constant presence surely means to be like him …
truly loving, reaching out to even the hard to love,
truly obedient to God, living sacrificially …
… and if that is what we are to be then, he seeks to prepare us to be like that even now, if we will let him.
John echoed this thought absolutely when he wrote to early Christians in his first letter … (1 John 3:2-3), here in “The Message” paraphrase …..
2-3 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
MINISTRY FROM THE BAND – I KNOW THOU ART MINE (LEONARD BALLANTINE)
What better music could we hear now than Len Ballantine’s arrangement of Ralph Featherstone’s great hymn, “My Jesus, I love thee”, with its last verse …. “In mansions of glory, and endless delight, I’ll ever adore thee and dwell in thy sight”.
In this video we return to Canada, and to Oshawa Temple again, to look and listen as their band play this beautiful and uplifting piece …..
PART 3 : LIVING - THE PRESENT
Reading – Psalm 23 vv. 5-6 (New International Version)
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
All our readings were all connected …
and surely there is more a passing connection between Jesus’ words we’ve shared from Acts
and from John’s Gospel, and now, the end of Psalm 23.
Our earthly life and the life to come, aren’t meant to be two totally separate things.
They are meant to be a continuum, with death as but a doorway from this earthly part of life
into the remainder of life.
In the Bible eternal life isn’t so much about DURATION as about QUALITY of life.
Although the early-day salvationists sang rather more, and rather more shamelessly, about heaven and its rewards than we perhaps do, they also sang in an early song, as General Frederick Coutts recalled in his writings that, “PRESENT pay I now receive”.
Though we might talk rightly about a heavenly banquet, the psalmist pictures a generous host
who lays out a feast for the weary pilgrim now,
and who refreshes the thirsty traveller now
and who anoints the harassed and tested wayfarer now.
So in this challenging time for us
individually, for families, for workplaces, for charities, for the caring professions,
for our churches, including The Salvation Army,
let’s trust that as we continue to face the enemy of this virus
that seems to be the enemy of health, and community
and which can so easily breed anxiety and stress,
as well as the tangible destruction of lives and livelihoods,
that God, through the living and ascended Jesus, can, and will continue to provide for us, and through us,
that God, through the living and ascended Jesus, can, and will continue to bless and anoint us,
that God, through the living and ascended Jesus, can, and will continue to shower us with love
and goodness, and
that God, through the living and ascended Jesus, can, and will continue to prepare us for that place
he has one day prepared for us! Amen!
The Ascension speaks of the reign of Christ and his Kingdom, in every place, for all peoples and for all time.
In these challenging times he longs to speak his care for us, and all who suffer.
Here then are Ascension intercessions adapted from the Iona Community’s book, “Fire and Bread” …..
Let us hold before God all those who Christ calls to follow him –
when faith is sure, and faith clings by its fingernails;
when faith reassures, and when faith challenges;
both those who follow Christ with firm tread, and those whose step is less steady –
that, among God’s people, joys may be celebrated, and tears may be shed,
God’s Kingdom is both sought and lived, and the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared and proclaimed.
YOUR KINGDOM COME AND YOUR WILL BE DONE.
Let us hold before God all those to who Christ offers his Kingdom:
the abused and exploited;
the destitute and dispirited;
the homeless and the hungry;
the lonely and the unwelcome;
the sick and the sorrowful.
(You may like to pray here too for specific situations or people known to you. )
YOUR KINGDOM COME AND YOUR WILL BE DONE.
Let us bring to God those conditions in which we long to see Christ reign:
where conflict is a reality and peace but a dream;
where greed is honoured and generosity is mocked;
where the powerful are heard and the powerless are ignored;
where the earth is abused;
where historic hate still lives on.
YOUR KINGDOM COME AND YOUR WILL BE DONE.
Give us, O God,
A VISION OF YOUR KINGDOM,
A GLIMPSE OF YOUR GLORY,
AN OPENNESS TO YOUR RULE,
AND YOUR SPIRIT TO GUIDE US.
HEAR US, WE PRAY, THROUGH CHRIST,
THE RISEN AND ASCENDED ONE. AMEN.
CONGREGATIONAL SONG – SONG BOOK 163 – “Come, let us join our cheerful songs”
Here again is Kevin Larsson presenting an introduction to Song 163 from the late General Paul Rader.
It’s a great song to conclude our Ascensiontide worship …
The whole creation join in one to bless the sacred name
Of him who sits upon the throne, and to adore the Lamb!
May the God, who made you, watch over you.
May the Lord, who died for you, be near you.
May the Spirit, who gives life, live in your hearts.
And the blessing of this all-holy God,
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you always. Amen. (from “A Book of Blessings”)
Thank you for reading
Written by Major Stuart B
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