To begin with his disciples were at a bit of a loose end. That is not to say that they had no chores to get on with. Think of it like this: someone you are close to has just left town. You have said your last ‘good bye’ and now the train/plane/taxi has disappeared from view and you have the rest of the day to yourself. You know that it is likely that the next time that they will come and visit will be for your funeral. In your heart you wish it were not so, but you realise that with the difficulty of the journey it is so. I dare say most of us as some point or other in our lives have had to say ‘good bye’ like that.
Then what? We should get on with the rest of the day whether it’s going back to work, finishing the weekly shop, doing the household chores. But if we had set aside the whole morning then there is no rush. What do we, their family and/or friends, do now? Isn’t there a kind of listlessness; we are not yet quite ready to get back to normal – or rather to the “new normal” that we have begun to realise?
I sense it would have been a bit like that for Jesus’s disciples except for the fact that he had given them a task to do: to pray and wait together; to pray for and to wait for the Holy Spirit.
Today’s novena topic is prayer for the marginalised. We might have a specific group in mind but I suspect that in every walk of life we may be surprised to find out who are the marginalised in our sphere life.
A Prayer for the Sunday after AScension Day
Risen, ascended Lord, s we rejoice at your triumph, fill your Church on earth with power and compassion, so that all who are estranged by sin may find forgiveness and know your peace, to the glory of God the Father. Amen. (Common Worship: Additional Collect)
St Matthias is one of those people who tend to get chosen just to make up the numbers. He was one of the apostles (the replacement for Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus) and, apart from a few verses in the first chapter of the book of Acts, we know precious little about him.
But that’s OK. There are plenty of people who do something worthwhile, who have an important role, who also do not get much in the way of publicity or public recognition.
Today’s suggested topic for the novena is prayer for the elderly. Ask a child to define “old” and they may suggest anyone over the age of 20, ask a 60 year-old and they may suggest 70. I suspect for most of us any one who happens to be more than 10 years older than us makes them appear old. Yet many “old” people say they feel much the same inside as when they were 17 or 18 years old. For our purposes here, I would think of those who are old enough to draw their pension.
A prayer from Cardinal John Newman
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Previously, I mentioned the Novena which starts tomorrow. Today in the church’s calendar, Ascension Day, we remember the day Jesus went back to heaven some 40 days after being brought back to new life (Easter Day).You can read about it in the last chapter of Luke’s gospel (chapter 24) and in the first chapter of the book Acts.
The particular emphasis today is on triumph. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated his victory over the forces of darkness, over sin and death. The battle was won, and his new, risen life observed by a number of people. Now, he returns home to heaven, victorious. In art Jesus is depicted as sitting on a throne because Jesus is King of the whole world, of the whole known universe. A king who won without the force of arms but through the power of God’s Spirit.
Sometimes it feel like that Ascension Day is simply a little be of tidying up of some loose ends in the story. It is not. I tend to think of it as being end of part 1; part 2 continues after a brief intermission
A prayer for Ascension Day
Risen Christ, you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven. Help us to seek and serve you, so that we may join you at the Father’s side, where you reign with the Spirit in glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Common Worship, Additional Collect)
On the one hand, this idea might seem superfluous. I guess that while some of us pray every day, the rest do not feel the need to at all. So, if someone comes up with a suggestion for nine days of prayer, some of us may say “but I pray anyway” and to the rest the suggestion is irrelevant.
Even so, I think it does help sometimes to have something that helps focus the mind. And there is something to be said for praying with others – either at the same time, same place or with the same intention – it gives us a sense of solidarity (or “fellowship” or “catholicity” depending on your tradition).
Anyway, I was intrigued to read that Premier Christian Radio (broadly Evangelical) was inviting us to join in a novena of prayer. A novena is firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition but the basic idea is quite straight forward. Nine days are set aside to pray with a particular intention in mind. On those days we make an extra effort and are reminded to take prayer seriously – it is too easy to end up just “going through the motions” (or “vain repetition” as the gospel puts it).
On this occasion the nine days take us from Ascension Day to Pentecost Sunday which mirrors the period of prayer and waiting that Jesus’ disciples undertook. After Jesus went back home to heaven the disciples prayed together until the day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit came upon them in a new, powerful and inspiring way – see the first chapter of the book of Acts. There is a tradition, therefore, in some churches to regard these days as being particularly appropriate to pray especially for the coming and/or renewing of the Holy Spirit in our world and in our lives.
I think I shall give this novena a try, and see how the days go. You can sign up for resources (see link here) or simply include the suggested topics among your own prayers.
Day 1: Friday 15th May
Prayer for the elderly
Day 2: Saturday 16th May
Prayer for men
Day 3: Sunday 17th May
Prayer for the marginalised
Day 4: Monday 18th May
Prayer for young people
Day 5: Tuesday 19th May
Prayer for women
Day 6: Wednesday 20th May
Prayer for those suffering from mental health issues
Day 7: Thursday 21st May
Prayer for singles
Day 8: Friday 22nd May
Prayer for leaders
Day 9: Saturday 23rd May
Prayer for children
It may well be you’re thinking that you would not have chosen all these particular topics – you are at liberty to choose your own, of course.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ is one of those stories that are a bit puzzling and easy to ridicule. I think it fair to say that some of the ways that well-meaning writers and artists have used have not helped. We read in the New Testament that some time after Jesus was raised from the dead (which we celebrate at Easter) he left his disciples and returned home: he went ‘up’ into heaven (that we celebrate on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter Day. This year it is on 2nd June 2011). The phrase used in the book of Acts is that Jesus “was lifted up and a cloud took him out of his sight”. I know of at least one chapel which has a cloud attached to its ceiling and a pair of feet sticking out underneath it. Then there is a video intended for children and it shows Jesus shooting up into the air looking for all the world like a Saturn V rocket. It shows a way of reading of the Bible which is unhelpful and makes particular assumptions about the universe. If we think about it for a minute, even if Jesus travelled at the speed of light, he would have travelled about 2,000 light years: I don’t think that that would get him across the galaxy we live in, let alone the end of the universe. Another assumption is that heaven is a place a long way away from here. By definition, though, heaven is not in this universe; it is in another “dimension” (to borrow an idea from science). “Where” that dimension is is impossible to describe – it may be very close indeed.
I think the mention of the cloud is what causes much of our confusion. Think of a cloud and the chances are you think of a weather cloud (fair weather cloud, rain cloud etc) or perhaps something like mist or fog. But in the Bible a reference to cloud is often a metaphor used to suggest the mysterious presence of God or God’s glory. For example, in Jesus’ transfiguration (when Jesus’ appearance was changed in a dazzling bright way when he was on a mountain with some of the disciples) it was while the cloud covered them that they heard God’s voice. The point about the cloud is not the weather but that God was present in a particularly special way: somehow God was closer than ever before. The cloud tells us that Jesus went into the place where God is – the place we call heaven.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ ascension into heaven is simply the rounding off of his story but in fact it is more than that. In the Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts Jesus’ ascension forms the link, a bridge if you like, between his life and work on earth and the life and work of his followers who continue to spread the good news of death conquered and God’s overpowering love revealed in Jesus Christ their Lord. The Ascension also tells us where Jesus is now. To be sure he is present with us through his Spirit, but until he returns he is in heaven his home. In other words, where God is, Jesus is. For Christians that is a very important point.
The point about the cloud is not that Jesus went up but that Jesus Christ went away; he did not go into outer space, he went home to heaven. Meanwhile, his last promise is that he will not leave his disciples all alone – he will be sending them a gift from heaven in a few days’ time. And we may receive that gift too.