Ascension Sunday

This sermon was given by Rev Caroline on Sunday 28 May.

Last Monday afternoon, a group of us from Prestwich met at The Christie to present the banner that had been made by the inter-faith sewing group. It was a truly joyous time affirming the relationships that had been built between faith groups in the community as well as the wonderful work of The Christie. As faith leaders from the community joined us to dedicate the banner, the culture of The Christie as a community of hope was celebrated as was the collaboration of people of different faiths and of no faith to create that banner of hope.

Just nine hours later the news that was emerging from the centre of Manchester rocked our city and rippled throughout the world. A message of hate and brutality that was in sharp contrast to the message of hope and love shared earlier in the day. In the days that have followed, we have all been asking hard questions, trying to make sense of such an act – if, indeed, sense can be made. “Where is hope?” I have heard people ask “when such random acts can be taken against the vulnerable”. “What hope do we have of preventing such atrocities from happening?” Those are questions for politicians and those that serve the public in this respect. Today I want to talk about a different type of hope and today’s gospel speaks in to this question. In it  Jesus is praying to the Father with every intention that others will overhear and act upon what he says. He is talking  about the hope that we have in him.

This week we are  celebrating Thy Kingdom Come as we, like the disciples awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit,  are called back to prayer as the starting point, the lifeblood for everything that we do in our churches. As Jesus prayed, intimately as the Son speaking to the Father, so can we and so must we.

Jesus is also praying with the aim of encouraging and instructing the disciples and therefore also encouraging and instructing us. One of the key themes that Jesus wants us to understand is glory.  The word “glory”  can carry a sense of honour or brightness, yet the key to its role in John’s gospel is that it has to do with the way God is made known to human beings.

As we encounter Jesus, the Son of God, God’s glory was revealed through him  in his miracles. Jesus turns water in to wine as the first of his signs at Cana in Galilee, and manifests God’s glory. Then, just before he raises Lazarus from the dead, he challenges Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ (11:40). Miracles are one manifestation of glory

Glorifying means  honour, reputation and power and in the first part of this prayer Jesus is praying to the Father to glorify him, we remember what that means. Yet Jesus prays to the Father to glorify him knowing that he is heading to the cross – a most inglorious death. Despite this, God glorifies Christ precisely through that way of dying – a surprising kind of glory that can only be seen through the eyes of faith, – where God turns our ideas about what a kingdom looks like upside down. The true glory is to be seen, not in outward splendour and power, but in his weakness, in Jesus’ limiting of himself and self giving.

We’ve just celebrated the Ascension, that is glorious, Jesus rising on clouds! We are now  heading towards Pentecost, another manifestation of God’s almighty power and glory. We return to this passage that is focusing upon the cross to remind ourselves about just how deep the meaning of glory is. Christ’s glory is such that It seems upside down without the eyes of faith.

Christ did not just reveal his glory to his disciples but gave his glory to them so that they would reflect it in the world. We hold the glory of God! Let’s think about the privilege and responsibility of that for a moment. Christ’s glory in us is the glory of service, the glory of humility and the glory of serving others.

This brings me back to the question that I have been hearing on peoples’ lips this week….”Where is hope?” In the midst of the atrocity of Monday night, we have seen people of all faiths and of no faith reflected in the many who ran towards danger, comforted strangers, protected the vulnerable and fed the hungry. We have seen God’s glory in the indomitable human spirit vowing  that we will not be beaten by terrorism. We have seen it as people of all faiths and no faith have united in love and grief at the vigils held.

This week we have seen ordinary lives lived gloriously as people of different faiths stand side by side in unity against terrorism. I have had many conversations this week with people looking for God’s presence in the midst of horror and searching for a sign that he cares what’s going on… and it can be  hard in the face of such sadness. BUT, during a spontaneous conversation with people of different faiths who were drawn to gaze sadly at the news stand in our local supermarket the consensus was:

  • He was in the hearts of the helpers,
  • He was in the kindness and love that was shared,
  • He was in the eyes of those who reached out and held the hands of the frightened, he was with them and in them all – no matter their race, faith, gender, colour, age or social status. He was there.

So this week, we celebrate Christ glorified by the Father, in the wonder and spectacle of the resurrection and ascension and we anticipate the almighty power of the Holy Spirit to transform and manifest God’s presence in our world but we do so always being called back to the definition of glory we find in the cross and the and the invitation to live that out, in ordinary lives, gloriously.

Let us pray:

Lord, lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth;
lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust;
lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts,
our world, our universe.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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