May Pastoral Letter 2014
“May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you.”
When his father died, management expert and author Charles Handy wrote, “I realised that what one believes about life, and the point of life, does matter. I had put my faith, until that moment, in success, money and family… I still think these things are important, although I would now reverse the order, but I hanker after a bigger frame in which to set them.”
Later in his book The Hungry Spirit Handy says that people in Africa speak of two hungers: “the lesser hunger is for the things that sustain life, the goods and services and the money to pay for them that we all need. The greater hunger is for an answer to the question ‘Why?’ for some understanding of what life is all about.” Handy’s experience, and that observation, is true for most of us. As we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension back to God, we begin to see that bigger frame, the context, within which our lives are set. We also start to find answers to that greater hunger for understanding what life is about.
The biblical accounts of Jesus being taken into heaven challenge our imagination. Our understanding of the ascension is sometimes conditioned by paintings which show Jesus floating up on a cloud like an actor being lifted by invisible strings. They don’t always help people today understand the truth behind the image. In fact, Luke, who in his Gospel and in Acts left us the only account of this incident, gives little detail about what it looked like. All he tells us is that this was Jesus’ final resurrection appearance, and that he disappeared, or faded away, in an upward direction.
That was highly symbolic and significant. It showed the disciples that Jesus was leaving them in his physical, visible form for good, and that he was going somewhere to which, for the time being, they couldn’t travel themselves. Furthermore, the disciples were as familiar as we are with the concept of “going up in the world”, “having a higher place” — the terms we use to describe promotion or status. So the upward direction indicated to them that Jesus was also going to a better place, and they quickly understood that as the place of authority, like the highest or supreme court.
Having conquered sin and death, and having revealed through word and deed what God is like and what God requires, Jesus was returning to heaven in triumph. This was a yellow-ribbon, ticker-tape day, a carnival. No wonder the disciples didn’t greet his departure with tears of grief but returned to Jerusalem “full of joy”, to await with hope the coming of God’s Spirit. That would be, as it were, the starting pistol to set them off on their marathon mission to make disciples in all places. They knew that Jesus now reigned supreme in heaven, and was therefore best placed to equip them for their task, oversee their strategy, and guide them to victory in life and through death.
One of the earliest Christian creeds consisted of three words: “Jesus is Lord!” It appears in some hymns and songs, and is used in prayers or as an encouragement to Christians. The ascension of Jesus affirms its truth, for he reigns in heaven as Lord of all. Therefore he’s in ultimate control of all peoples and all things. But he’s not a puppeteer pulling the strings and making everyone dance to his tune. It means that through him everything we do freely, assuming it is in accord with his general purposes, can be blessed. Every situation we find ourselves in — however hard or perplexing — can be redeemed and turned to his advantage. No event is beyond his care or capability.
The ascension of Jesus is the final piece of the jigsaw that is the Christian faith. Now we see the bigger picture, the frame or context within which our lives have a special place. Now we glimpse answers to what life is all about. We live to honour Jesus the Lord. And he longs for all creation to be brought under his rule so that justice, righteousness and peace reign on earth, and people discover what it means to be made in God’s image. With that vision in our minds, and with the Spirit’s power in our hearts, we, like the first disciples, can go into the world with boldness, to work for God’s rule to be observed and for people to find God for themselves.
Your friend and priest’
The ordination of Christian Mitchell as a deacon in the Church of God
4.00 p.m. Saturday June 28th in Chichester Cathedral.
I will give you more details and if there is any availability of tickets for the service in the cathedral when I have full details. Please keep Christian, Vicky, Hugh and Charlie in your prayers as they prepare to move to Uckfield.
On Sunday 29th June Fr. Christian will begin his title post with us. This is a training position and I cannot stress enough that he and the family will need time to adapt in many different ways. A new home, a new place, so many new faces, new schools, new routines and new work! In the evening of the 29th we will be having our ‘Hymns and Pimms’ evening at 6.30 p.m. at Holy Cross which will give you a good opportunity to meet with them all. I will write about what a deacon is in the next issue.