Towards the end of this month, on Thursday 26th May, we’ll observe the Feast of the Ascension, which is celebrated 40 days after Easter.
The Ascension of Christ, as described in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts, is very much seen as the end-point of the immediate post-Resurrection period where Christ appears to his disciples, continues to teach them and even shares in meals with them. The Ascension brings this to a close, as Luke’s Gospel ends like this:
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the templeLuke 24.50-53
The Ascension brings Easter to yet a different level: it is a point instigating spiritual growth and maturity.
The Master has to leave in order for his disciples to grow up! I often think of hatching birds when pondering the Ascension: the moment when the little ones are ready to fly, they receive a nudge from their parents, forcing them to leave the nest and fly. They can’t stay in the nest forever, they need to trust in their own skills and become fully grown birds.
Likewise, we have spiritual need of the Ascension and need to risk leaving…our nests to become Christian disciples pledged to growth. That might sound risky and it might be tempting to hide in structures well-known to us.
But the Ascension teaches us that we are created to fly and grow, as we find a renewed relationship with God and God’s wonderful creation.
Wishing you a good Eastertide and a deep & bold Ascension Day,
Easter is at the absolute heart of the Christian faith and the most central time of the Church Year.
We celebrate Easter every Sunday, as we meet on the first day of the week (the day of the resurrection) in worship and prayer.
However, once a year we make a special effort in our Easter celebrations as we prepare ourselves during the Season of Lent and go through the drama of Holy Week through to Easter Day, recalling Jesus’ last days before his death, his passion and resurrection.
This year (as the restrictions due to the Covid pandemic are eased), we will manage a full round of services: from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the Last Supper and from the cross to the empty tomb (and quite a few services in between!).
The worship of Holy Week is not just a re-telling of the central Christian story: it is designed so that we may enter into the narrative more fully and be touched on deeper levels with the help of all our senses.
Christ is always risen, but we are to find our own step on the Christian Way as we walk God’s purpose for us.
As we sing in our Lent Hymn this year:
From ashes to the living fontAlan J. Hommerding (CCLI Licence # 237731)
your Church must journey still;
through cross and tomb to Easter joy,
in Spirit-fire fulfilled.
I am very much looking forward to walking this year’s holy journey of Holy Week & Easter with you.
Yours in Christ,
Our Lent book this year is Saying Yes to Life by Ruth Valerio (who is an environmentalist, theologian and a director at Tearfund). In the book, Dr Valerio discusses issues related to climate change and the need for climate justice & action as she reflects on the story of creation as found in Genesis chapter 1.
The well-known creation story of Genesis 1 certainly has enormous implications for how we have come to view the world and humanity’s place within it. One verse found in Genesis 1 has perhaps been particularly influential in how we view the world as God says to humanity, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Gen 1.28)
We can clearly see the consequences of blunt dominion of the world by the impact humanity has on life on this planet and its various forms of ecosystems. It would be helpful to renew our understanding of ‘dominion’ to be more about our human capacity for ‘stewardship’, which seems to be inbuilt into our system (as Genesis seems to suggest). As the OT scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us, the Biblical image of dominion of living creatures needs to be about the ‘securing of the well-being of every other creature and [about] bringing the promise of each to full fruition.’ Jesus is very clear on this in his teaching (Brueggemann says): ‘The one who rules is the one who serves.’
As we go through Lent this year, we might want to ask: What are we stewards of? Our relationships maybe? Creation around us? Our shopping habits? Our carbon footprint? Our own fruition and outlook on life? Good stewardship will take care to include the well-being of creation (and will not advocate ‘humanity first’, but acknowledge that we are but a part of a wonderful world created as being good).
What will we help to bring to fruition and learn to carefully steward as we take our place within God’s wonderful creation?
Yours in Christ,
At Holy Trinity, our worship is very much coloured by the different seasons of the Church Year.
However, at present, it may feel like being between seasons, as Christmas has firmly come to an end (with Candlemas on the 2nd of February) and Lent & Easter are not yet on the horizon.
But our present spell of Ordinary Time is an important part of the whole cycle which forms the Church Year: we need the different colours and themes, the highpoints and feasts, as well as the stretches of time in between so that our own spiritual lives can organically grow out of our yearly cyclical walk in God-time.
For our lives are cycles of growth as well, as we learn to let go of things no longer life-giving and re-enter perhaps familiar space with deepened insight, in order to find God at work within us anew.
The poet and priest Malcolm Guite puts it like this:
Tangled in time, we go by hints and guesses,
Turning the wheel of each returning year.
But in the midst of failures and successes
We sometimes glimpse the love that casts out fear.
Sometime the heart remembers its own reasons
And beats a Sanctus as we sing our story,
Tracing the threads of grace, sounding the seasons
That lead at last through time to timeless glory.
From the first yearning for a Saviour’s birth
To the full joy of knowing sins forgiven,
We start our journey here on God’s good earth
To catch an echo of the choirs of heaven.
I send these out, returning what was lent,Sounding the Seasons: 70 sonnets for the Christian Year
Turning to praise each ‘moment's monument’.
Wishing you deep God-moments wherever you may be in your own cycles of life.
Yours in Christ,
Every year in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we focus on the Birth of Jesus: the promise of a Messiah as foretold by the prophets and the incarnation of the Word of God, born in human flesh.
Luke famously writes this about the incarnation: ‘And she [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.’ (Luke 2.7) A very vivid description of being clothed – both in human form and in actual bands of cloth.
The idea that God stoops low to meet us in Jesus’ birth; that God’s Word takes human shape so that we can learn something deep about God by walking alongside Jesus and by following his word and example, is key to the mystery of the incarnation. God is clothed, so that our lives can be profoundly touched.
But there is another aspect to our ‘bands of cloth’ perhaps worth remembering this Advent and Christmas.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us of this in his poem God speaks (from the cycle The Book of Hours): here God is described as speaking to everyone at the point of their incarnation, telling them (and us all) to ‘clothe God’ in our being and life. Not only Jesus is to clothe God, but we all are called to give God shape in who we are and what we do.
Maybe we could remember this basic calling to life and embodiment as we go through the seasons of Advent and Christmas (and celebrate Jesus’ birth): that our own ‘bands of cloth’ (as humble as they may be) are key to the mystery of the incarnation as we are all called into the fabric of life by God – and that to wrap others lovingly in ‘bands of cloth’ is to take part in God’s plan and purpose for all of creation.
Yours in Christ,