A sermon which was preached at St Mark’s Church, Cape Town on the Sunday after the Ascension during Covid 19 Lock down 2020
St Luke 24: 44-53
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
Good Morning St Mark’s. It is such a privilege to be addressing you again during these times of threatening illness and concern for all of us in the country and especially in the Western Cape. I trust that you are taking the virus seriously and practising social distancing and are wearing masks. We continue to keep those suffering with the virus in our prayers, and pray for those who are bereaved and those who have died.
We reflect today on the Ascension of Jesus and why, like the disciples we should express our joy.
There is the story Tortoise and the Eagle The tortoises lived near the waterhole. Every day the tortoises came to the waterhole. “There is only the waterhole, that’s all there is,” the tortoises said. But one day an eagle lifted a tortoise into the sky. As they rose the tortoise saw other waterholes and other communities of tortoises. The eagle went so high that the tortoise saw the curve of the Earth. Then the eagle took the tortoise back to the waterhole. He ran in excitement to tell the others “There are many waterholes.” But they said, “No there is only this waterhole!” The tortoise had seen the bigger picture.
God’s love in Jesus rises up to take its place everywhere. The Ascension is the realization of the “Everywhereness” of the Christ.
Jesus ascends into the cloud, which is the great symbol of the presence of God in the Old Testament. In the Baptism of Jesus a voice speaks from the cloud, and in the Transfiguration the disciples are enveloped in a cloud.
The Ascension is showing us that Jesus is part of the whole idea of God. We see the big picture.
In God there is no un-Christlikeness whatever – this is not the fearsome God of the Old Testament. God is a God of love and compassion.
The Ascension has been described as the most political of all Christian doctrines. It makes great claims upon our world – upon all authorities, governments, powers and systems. God is in control of things and not any human power. And this is simply expressed in the children’s song: He’s got the whole world in His hands.
Some of the great painters of the past expressed the Ascension like this:
I shall be using this column to include a number of subjects to my blog reflections. The headings of my interests are as follows: A special prayer, Story, Meditation, Quotations of Inspiration, poems read by ordinary people, a Rumi poem, images of birds from the Western Cape, South Africa. This column of interest will evolve over the next weeks. There will be a link to most of these special subjects.
The Good Morrow by John Donne read by Jane Dean, artist, illustrator, wife and mother.
A fun story by Dorian Haarhoff, a renowned story teller follows.
A Rumi quote
Today, like every other day you wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
And begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The Ascension by Giotto c 1305. In this very one dimensional presentation, Christ is rising up into the heavens on a cloud accompanied by a heavenly host. The two angels seem to be explaining the meaning of this event to the disciples and Mary. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ Acts 1:11 (NIVUK)
The Ascension by Benjamin West 1738-1820. This portrayal of the Ascension is richly dynamic and dramatic. The painting seems equally divided between heaven and earth. Heaven is all light and the light is falling on the faces of the company of the followers of Jesus. There is the nakedness of the heavenly figures which suggests purity, innocence and truth. For a moment the door of the spiritual world is ajar and we look into it.
Salvador Dali’s Ascension is much more challenging and modern in its conception
Here Jesus has slipped behind the curtain of reality; behind the atoms and cell life of the world. He is Lord of the DNA of all life.
Dali said that his inspiration for The Ascension of Christ came from a ‘cosmic dream’ that he had in 1950, some eight years before the painting was completed. In the dream, which was in vivid colour, he saw the nucleus of an atom, which we see in the background of the painting. Dali later realized that this nucleus was the true representation of the unifying spirit of Christ.
The feet of Christ point out at us, the viewer, and draw our eyes inwards along his body to the centre of the atom behind him. The atom has the same interior structure as the head of a sunflower.
We all have to ask the question “Is the world a friend to us?”
What is at the core of life?
Is it the love of God?
The Ascension answers this question.
Jesus and his love is Lord of the universe.
Every life is special.
No matter how tragic things get, love can be trusted.
We are standing in a solid universe. God is in charge and this God is good and involved.
The God of the Ascension, vast and small,
must become the Lord of my Life.
The reflection that follows is adapted from a prayer of Michel Quoist (1954)- Prayers of Life
I would like to rise very high lord, Above my suburb, above my city Above the hills and the mountain I would like to rise very high and borrow your eyes I would then see that the whole of life is interconnected That earth has no barriers That my life is dependent on the whole of life That what I do in my small way is part of the whole That every life has meaning and purpose That my little story is part of a much larger story Your story for me Lord. I would see that in the Ascension that you are Lord of the Cosmos That the Universe is in your hands. And I would see a Christ-likeness at the centre of Reality And in seeing your vastness I would know somethings deeply of your smallness That you became human for us That you took on family life That you lived in community That you became a servant That you suffered and died That in your smallness You were the presence and action of love That you accept and love me That my life is brimming with your presence That my daily walk through valleys and sunshine Is a walk of hope and longing for completeness For from your vastness To the tiniest quantum particle of life You are to be found For you are Lord You are the gracious Lord of all life The Lord of my life. Amen