Monday, 22 May 2023

The Ascension: A point of departure

Preached at Choral Evensong also giving thanks for the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Inner Wheel, Croydon.


2 Samuel 23.1-5 The parting words of King David

Ephesians 1.15-23 Christ is head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all




Last Thursday the Church celebrated the feast of the Ascension of the Lord.


The Ascension is a point of departure.


It is literally a point of departure, in the sense that Christ’s human body of flesh departs from the earth and sight of the apostles, and is taken into the heavens.


It is figuratively a point of departure, in the sense that Christ’s body, the Church, made up our fleshly bodies, now begins to live his life without his physical presence but entirely dependent on the power of the Spirit he promises to send to animate the Church to worship and witness to the ends of the earth.


In ascending into the heavens Jesus Christ in his human body and person is no longer bound to time and space but is available to all people and nations and all times and in all places.


Yet still he is present, as he says in St Matthew’s Gospel, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’. (Matthew 28.20)


This is not ‘in person’ presence, as we might call it post-pandemic, but it is real, efficacious and powerful: in other words the risen, ascended, glorified Lord is as certainly with his Church as he was when in person in Palestine two thousand years ago.


Christ’s risen, ascended, glorified body is communicated most powerfully in the sacraments that unite heaven and earth, that bring together Christ the bridegroom with his bride the Church.


The Church herself is a sacrament of Christ’s presence in the world: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.


This is what St Paul asserts in the letter to the Ephesians, ‘And God has put all things under Christ’s 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’ (Ephesians 1.22,23)

Christ’s mystical body still has a human face in the lives of those baptised in his name – that’s you and me - and who in their pursuit of holiness feed on his body in the Eucharist: ‘this is my body; this is my blood’.


This perhaps tells us something about the endings and beginnings in our daily lives and how we handle points of departure.


King David in our first reading, in his valedictory words to his people, declares how it is God’s Holy Spirit who sustains and speaks ‘like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming  from the rain on the grassy land’. (2 Samuel 23.4).


David asks rhetorically, ‘Will not the LORD cause to prosper all my help and my desire?’ (2 Samuel 23.5b)


Yes, of course he will. The LORD is our helper.


That message of God’s presence is for us as we begin a new day, a new week, a new chapter in life.


Young people taking public exams around this time are at a point of departure, the closing of one chapter and opening of new ones; they need to be realistic and hopeful about what their point of departure holds and commit it to the Lord.


The Croydon Inner Wheel is an organisation that rightly celebrates 80 years of bringing people together, fostering friendship and serving others, which itself is a noble cause.


And this 80th anniversary can and should be a point of departure, a moment of saying thank you to God for all that has been – a time to remember past members, benefactors and friends – and a time to look forward to the future with realism, confidence and hope.


The Ascension of the Lord reminds us of the enduring presence of Christ in the world made available to those who, turning away from sin and darkness, reach out in hope to him.


May the Lord bless our points of departure, our beginnings and endings, so that in St Paul’s words, ‘[we] may know the hope to which he has called [us], 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’. (Ephesians 1.18,19)



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