Note to reader. I included this story in an article I wrote for the Contact Magazine back in 2017, and on here for an Advent reflection in 2016. I like it because it helps me understand the love that inspired the Incarnation, and why we should celebrate Christmas. I know… its June… just bear with me.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
The only problem with this story is that it is unfinished. At some point the grandfather must leave the playpen, and Johnnie must grow up, learn from his mistakes and move on. So, you’ll be pleased to know I’m not 6 months behind, I’m not calling for a second Christmas to be added to our calendars, no matter how much I love the Australian tradition of a good BBQ on Christmas Day. Instead I’m suggesting we make more of the Ascension of Jesus in our lives.
The Church marks and celebrates the Ascension this year on the 30th May. We do so to remind ourselves that Jesus is indeed still with us, whilst knowing that it is now our task to mature in faith, and to take our role as Christians in the world seriously.
I agree that Ascension Day is an obscure Christian holiday. It celebrates an event that is difficult for the modern scientific mind to take literally, and the truth that Jesus ascended to heaven when he could have stayed, is quite unhelpful to Christians more generally. I mean let’s be honest – if the resurrected Jesus was still with us in person, spreading the Gospel would be a whole lot easier. He’d be very popular on YouTube for a start. Jesus ascending into heaven was like our best player being substituted off the pitch in extra-time, at the very moment we needed him the most.
Despite this, we declare in church that the Ascension is central to our faith.
We publicly state it every week in our creed. Why? Well, its because we know we must grow in our faith, grow in life, remain dependent on the love of God in Jesus but free to exercise our faith in the world. Here are three reasons why should keep the Ascension high up in our lives.
The Ascension is a call to worship.
In Acts 1:9 it says that Jesus was ‘lifted up’, he didn’t get taken up on some divine hoist, or sky elevator. He was lifted up. The first thing to note here is that the original Greek text conveys an earthly perspective not a heavenly one. It literally means the world ‘lifted’ Jesus toward his Father, which conveys the ascension as a moment of glory. The Ascension is therefore a call to worship. When we meet in church and remember the Ascension, we lift Jesus to his rightful place as having authority in our lives.
The Ascension is a reminder that it is good for us that Jesus returned to the Father. One way of seeing the Ascension is like it’s Christmas in reverse. God comes down to be with us, and then God returns, to remain in us. Teresa of Avila writes, ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is to look out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.
The Ascension was the moment the Church became the Church. One of the many privileges of being vicar of All Saints Highertown is my seeing all the amazing people that are involved in community run projects, such as resident’s associations, community choirs, and the many support groups that use the church. I am proud that they are part of our life, and that the body of Christ is rich and varied. And this is the point. The Church is not a community organisation, it is not an institution, it is not a religion. The Church was always meant to be body of Christ, the person of Jesus to the rest of the world. In so many ways we have lost our way, but there are equally ways in which we have lived out this identity with all we can offer. And so here is the task we are reminded of on Ascension Day. Our greatest task of all is to be what we are meant to be. To be like Him who saved us.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.