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Ascension Day Worship
Ascension Day – Worship Introduction
Ascensiontide and Pentecost draw us with their rich imagery and their proclamation of triumph in Christ’s majesty and the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence and gifts. This is the time when we remember the Church has something to say which is good news for all the earth. Ascension Day used to be one of the great days of the Christian year, but now it tends to go by relatively unnoticed. I remember visiting a lovely (but formidable) lady called Mrs Stokes in my first parish and she was really disappointed she had to miss the Ascension Day service because it was too late and her carers wouldn’t be around to help her get to bed. She got really excited about Ascension Day. She told me in Switzerland where her daughter lives it’s even a public holiday (along with a number of other countries). It’s regarded as that important, historically at least. She recounted how her old Rector from Cumbria used to say “it’s the day we really know Christ is Risen!” So as we celebrate and pray, sadly unable to do this together in church, let us daily seek to bear the fruit of the Spirit and work for this Kingdom that will not pass away
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Christ has ascended! Our High King – He shall reign for ever.
In love of the King of Life we shall celebrate. Alleluia!
Trumpets of the earth proclaim, Christ who once in earth had lain, goes in triumph now to reign. Alleluia!
He sits with God upon his throne, the Father’s glory is his own, he the eternal, radiant Son. Alleluia!
All human life with him is raised, the weakest ones by heaven are praised, now high and low on him have gazed. Alleluia!
There may be the Declaration ‘The Song of Christ’s Glory’(see Declarations, page 376) or creed, silent meditation, teaching or singing.
Sovereign of the Universe, a cloud hid you from sight yet your mortal humanity has been raised to life in God. We pray for those whose life is clouded: raise them to life in you.
For those clouded by fear: raise them to life in you.
For those clouded by worry: raise them to life in you.
For those clouded by anxiety and depression: raise them to life in you.
For those feeling the strain of caring: raise them to life in you
For researchers seeking a vaccine: raise them to life in you
May the battle-scarred and weary be raised to life in you.
May the whole human family be raised to life in you.
Space to pray for those known to you
May the King of glory fill you with joy, make you expectant, keep you in unity, and bring you the power from on high. Alleluia!
End of Service
Ascension Day - collects and readings
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with him continually dwell; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
FIRST READING Acts 1.1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While stayingwith them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
This is the word of the Lord Thanks be to God
R God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound
of the trumpet.
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome,a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,and nations under our feet. He chose our heritage for us,the pride of Jacob whom he loves.
God has gone up with a shout,the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.Sing praises to God, sing praises;sing praises to our King, sing praises. R
SECOND READING Ephesians 1.15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your lovetoward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Godput this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This is the word of the Lord Thanks be to God
GOSPEL Luke 24.44-53
Listen to the gospel of Christ according to St. Luke
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and[d] returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
This is the gospel of the Lord Thanks be to God
God our Father, you have raised our humanity in Christ and have fed us with the bread of heaven: mercifully grant that, nourished with such spiritual blessings, we may set our hearts in the heavenly places through Jesus Christ our Lord.
AMEN Return to Service
Ascension and loss – a reflection
Many are experiencing this, but it’s good to be reminded that the events between Good Friday and Pentecost establish a pattern for dealing with loss and new life; with grief and blessing. The daily lectionary rolls through the familiar story, and we know the sequence of the events by heart. But if we can somehow ‘internalize’ the pattern of paschal mystery, we may be able to recognize something of this pattern in our own lives when we suffer great loss and endure great change – and no more than in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mark Twain said: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." If we contemplate the history of Jesus, particularly from the events of Good Friday through Pentecost, we may be able to trace this pattern emerging in our own lives. Perhaps we too can catch the rhyme, find some consolation or blessing in the midst of grief which can tend to overwhelm us.
Jesus’ disciples were not left comfortless, and neither are we. Indeed, the Holy Spirit, the ‘Comforter’ (helper, counsellor, advocate), comes in tongues of fire at Pentecost, granting the disciples gifts designated for ministry in the world, but also (crucially) giving them the assurance that God was right there with them, in them (see next Sunday’s sermon for a bit more on this). These gifts enabled them to practice resurrection.
Let’s look for a moment a little more closely at this pattern of paschal mystery that is established between Good Friday and Pentecost.
Consider the events of Good Friday, where the disciples face an overwhelming loss. They grieve the death of their beloved friend Jesus. This is real death, the end of life as we know it; Easter is the beginning of new life, life as we can barely imagine it.
God gave the disciples time to adjust to life ‘in the Resurrection Zone’ (so to speak). The forty days between Easter and Ascension are God's concession to our longing for the ‘old shoes’ to be back on again: God's concession to our comfort zone, our default to the familiar. The forty days between Easter and Ascension give the disciples time to reorientate their lives to life in that Resurrection Zone. Jesus appeared to the disciples many times, consoling them, teaching them abou his kingdom, cooking them breakfast, and persistently leaving them peace (see John 20). It's as if he knew that in the days ahead they would need peace, consolation...and a good breakfast! The disciples got a chance to grieve the loss of the old Jesus, the familiar Jesus, the ‘old-shoe’ Jesus. They got a chance to get used to life within the reality of Resurrection.
With the Ascension the disciples let go of their old habits once and for all - not that letting go is any easier- but at least the disciples were more prepared. Perhaps the praying hands in Duhrer's woodcut of the Ascension (below) are hands that have just released Jesus from his earthly home. With the Ascension the disciples let go, refusing to cling to the old. With the Ascension the disciples let this great loss bless them – even if it did take some time...
So we linger for a moment over this piece of the pattern of paschal mystery: letting their loss change them. bless them. It's the lesson that the Ascension bears - and it's an important one to consider: letting our losses affect us like this. I remember speaking with a friend who lost her husband and life partner suddenly and cruelly. She had begun to work through her grief and anger to a point where she could say: "I could finally see how, if this had to happen, it had happened in the most gracious way possible. Things that were not usually in place were in place on the day that he died. We'd made love in the morning, pruned our roses after breakfast, and then parted with a kiss." I was stunned by her equanimity. She had internalized something of the paschal mystery. She’d caught a sense of the rhyme in her own life. She’d stopped clinging to her sorrow, her anguish: she was ready to let go. She was letting her loss bless her. Of course those experiencing the powerlessness and frustration of losing loved ones in such awful circumstances are denied such opportunity – and perhaps this is one of the most tragic consequences of the current crisis.
It must have been heart-breaking for them to watch Jesus ascend into the heavens. They had had forty days between Easter and Ascension to try and adjust to life in the Resurrection Zone, but the reality of Jesus leaving them finally dawned. Yet they were (finally) able to let the loss bless them…
The disciples are not left comfortless. With Pentecost the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ comes upon them, granting them the very indwelling presence of their Lord – and gifts to enable them to live life in the Resurrection Zone. The disciples are freed to practice resurrection.
Maybe this is the pattern of paschal mystery: losing something and grieving the loss, letting go and letting the loss do something profound in us to bless us (and others), receiving the spirit of resurrected life, practicing resurrection. We see it in the life of the resurrected Jesus; we see it in the lives of the disciples who surrounded him. With the Spirit's help we might find it in our own lives, if we would but look, paradoxical and difficult though it certainly is.