Ascension - Homily 2

Homily 2 - 2009

You have all been Christians for a long time - most of you, for all your lives. I presume that you would say that Jesus has quite an influence on your lives.

Would you say that that influence comes from what he had to say? and what he did? that is, from the past? Would you say it's more than that? Would some of you say that you relate to him, not simply as a significant figure from the past, but as someone now?

You pray to him; you talk to him, as someone real now. Perhaps, you would even say that Jesus also communicates with you.

There have been other significant religious figures in the past: the Buddha, the prophet Mohammad… Do you know of people who talk to them as real people – now? Do they say that the Buddha, Mohammad, communicate to them? Our claim seems be quite unique.

What makes us so sure? Is it because others have told us? Is it simply because others have told us? Or, would you say: No, it's more than that ... ? Would you say: You know it – from your own experience? You know it. You know it in your bones. It's not visions. It's not mysterious words you hear inside your head - but, at some deeper level, you know it.

You know it so really that you might even be prepared to give your life for your conviction. In fact, right now, you are living your life the way you do because somehow Jesus is real to you. You're here, today, because somehow he is real to you - not just a figure from a long time ago, but someone you relate to now.

I think that it is that kind of experience that we are celebrating today, with the Feast of the Ascension.

Imagine you were a first generation Christian author telling the story of Jesus' life. It would be OK up to his crucifixion. That was history. But, after that? What we're dealing with after that is quite beyond our clear understanding. It's mystery. How would you continue, in story form, your narrative? All the accounts we have talk about Jesus' resurrection - though the details of the stories are somewhat chaotic.

But, after that? Is he around? or Isn't he? If he's around, in what sense is he around? 

Luke, in his Gospel, and in its sequel, the Acts of Apostles, wrote in terms of Ascension, followed by the coming to the world of the Spirit of Jesus at Pentecost. Jesus is no longer around as historical figure. He is around and operating now through his Spirit.

Mark, the earliest Gospel, preferred to leave it mystery, and didn't even try to put it in story form. Mark's Gospel finished with a mysterious young man telling the women who went to the tomb where Jesus' body had been laid, simply that he had been raised, and that the disciples would meet him back in Galilee - Galilee meaning back wherever people live their ordinary lives. And he left it at that.

Matthew told the story of the empty tomb, and then of the risen Jesus meeting the Apostles back in Galilee, commissioning them to continue his mission, and assuring them that he would be with them always until the end of the world - but without further explanation.

The Gospel passage that we read today we can ignore. Scholars are virtually unanimous in saying that it's not really part of Mark's composition, but a later addition, made up basically of details from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

All four Gospels together, in their different ways, wrestle with the question... What is a good way to help us come to terms with our now experience? Jesus is obviously not around as the historical figure who lived and died in Palestine 2000 years ago. Jesus is obviously alive, present and operating in my life and yours today in Horsham.

However we tell the story, what matters is the fact of his now presence and life-giving influence.