Rector's Ramblings: May 24th

 

 

The psalmist wonders (Psalm 8:4-6): “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,”

  We might ask the same question: “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (or, in more inclusive language but less poetic: "Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?"   Why do we matter to God?

  The Ascension, this little festival tucked away on a Thursday and then picked up today, is often ignored. It comes towards the end of  Eastertide, when we’ve nearly forgotten about Jesus’ resurrection and the difference that makes, and Pentecost that has never been the best observed festival in the Christian calendar, though it is the third most important. Yet at his Ascension, Jesus again shows us how much we matter to God, how valued we are.

   First of all, Jesus’ followers are given a job to do: ‘you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’. We may moan when we do have jobs to do, but we only have to look at those who lose their jobs to know how important it is to us humans to have work. Not just ‘work’ but work that honours us. Jesus gives us work that honours us more than we dare imagine: to share his love with others; to invite all to come to God’s party; to tell them that they matter to God too. This work is to be carried out in word, in action and in how we lead our lives.

   The work is to be witnesses, which doesn’t mean beating others over the head until they agree with us and ‘convert’ (whatever that may mean). It is to share how we have come to know that we matter to God; it is to offer that to the heart of others but how it is received is not our work. We are to be witnesses in the same way as witnesses give evidence in court - not to argue people into the kingdom. We are given a job to do.

  Secondly, Jesus promises us his Holy Spirit to enable us to do this job (Promises 1 and 2 from last week’s Ramblings). He will come and dwell with us.

  • His Holy Spirit ensures come to know more and more that we matter to God. I’m a follower of 24 hours in A&E. I enjoy it and some of the human stories are so wonderful. As the programme opens, there is often a doctor or nurse who says something to the effect that what all patients want is for someone they love to be with them and to tell them it will be alright. Jesus is the one who is with us always and who tells us that it will be alright. We will be safe – our souls, the heart of us will be safe. He doesn’t promise that hardship won’t come our way – look at his own life and the lives of those first followers which often ended in execution as well.
  • It is then from this base that we are increasingly convinced of God’s love not just for us but for all everywhere and so start to be able to do the work of being a witness. We know we have something infinitely worthwhile to share. The Holy Spirit enables us to make known our humble and compassionate God through our words, our gestures and how we live together. We are called to bring Jesus’ message of comfort to land in the hearts of the grieving, the distressed, those who recognise the hole in the centre of their lives. The message will land wherever it matters most, to those who will hear it and receive it.

   Thirdly, the Ascension reminds us of God’s overarching purpose and it’s huge. He is working to bring all of humanity and all of creation into harmony with one another and with him. I read this recently: “Jesus came to lead us all into loving communion with the Father. His longing is that we become one in him: each different, each unique but together in unity.” It is amazing but something I hold firm to personally. Whatever life looks like on a day to day place, it’s all heading somewhere- to that time when all will be one with God. For now, we live in the in between times but God is faithful and he will do it.   

   In Jesus’ story, we see this cycle: God comes to earth in the flesh. The Word becomes human in the language of John’s gospel. At the Ascension, the flesh of humanity ascends to God in Jesus. Jesus doesn’t shed his humanity as a snake sheds its skin and leaves it behind. He doesn’t dematerialise. Human beings are taken into the heart of God. Divine and human brought together as Jesus held us together on the cross. Jesus then sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us now – a foretaste of what is to come, a guarantee of the future.

   We are a mixture (the whole of humanity is a mixture) of light and dark, of good and bad, of truth and chaos, of the presence and absence of God. We can’t bridge that divide within us ourselves. Jesus does on the cross. The Holy Spirit continues that work of bridging within us – the process of sanctification as it was called in the past. As we welcome the loving God, we are gradually set free and the walls start to come down. He makes us more one in ourselves and more at one with him and our fellow humans.

   The Ascension says that Jesus has taken us to the heart of the divine already. In the meantime, we are a work in progress being fashioned into Jesus’ likeness and tasked with carrying on his work of saying this is open to all.

   “What is man that you are mindful of him? and the son of man that you care for him?” Many years ago, George Carey wrote a book called ‘I believe in man’ and the theme of his book was the God does indeed believe in man (humankind). Could we ponder that one ourselves this Ascensiontide? It is so wonderful and amazing. We matter to God.  Even if we cannot begin to understand why he bothers.