Please find the link to our May 2022 magazine. You can find a paper copy in either St John with St Mark’s or Christ Church Walmersley from this Sunday:
Inside this issue there is a tribute to Joan Birch and an article on radical compassion. You’ll also find updates from many of our groups and organisations as well as reflections and prayers. The Bishop of Manchester has also sent us an Easter message.
Plus the May 2022 magazine has this letter from Ian Banks on the Ascension…
How do we get him out again?
I didn’t go to a church school and the only time that I, or any of my friends, wished we did was on Ascension Day. Church school pupils got the day off – and we didn’t! I think that’s gone by the wayside now and we don’t seem to celebrate it much here in the UK. In some countries it’s still a public holiday though. Odd, isn’t it, that we make such a fuss about the arrival of Jesus but barely a murmur about his departure?
“So, we got Jesus in there. How do we get him back out again?” It must have been a dilemma for God and his angelic extraction team as they figured out how to reunite Father and Son.
Elijah had an Uber chariot to get him away, though he lost his favourite cloak in the process and the driver swore he couldn’t find it. Maybe Elijah had gone through the app with Jesus during the transfiguration?
Perhaps Shakespeare had the right idea in ‘A Winter’s Tale’. One of the characters says: “I am gone for ever” – followed by that famous stage direction of: ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’. I suspect the Acts of the Apostles would have been read much more widely if Luke had included that in his text.
Maybe Jesus should ride off into the sunset, like at the end of a Saturday matinee. Though it would need to be on a donkey rather than on a horse called Champion or Silver.
Perhaps those of a similar age to me envisage Jesus being beamed up, like in Star Trek? After all, the T in James T Kirk stood for Tiberius, the Emperor of Rome at the time of the ministry and execution of Jesus. So, there’s a certain pleasing symmetry to that idea.
And down the ages, artists have got creative in conveying the departure of Jesus. Many of those paintings use as much, if not more, canvas and paint on the disciples as they do on Jesus. Because the ascension is as much about them and us as it is about him.
Some think of him going up in a rather splendid holy lift. For others it’s more of a Mary Poppins moment or invisible wires taking him up like Peter Pan at the theatre.
Do the apostles just get to see the soles of his feet? Do those feet still show signs of being pierced? Or in the forty days have they healed?
I particularly love some of the medieval pictures where the bottom half of Jesus seems to be dangling from the base of a cloud – but instead of leaving his cloak he leaves his footprints. He’s gone – but the signs of his having been here are still imprinted in the earth.
He had to leave
Of course, Jesus had to leave. The apostles still didn’t get it. If Jesus was the Messiah, they thought part of the job description was to liberate the people from oppression. If he’d stayed, they would have just followed him round, expectant that every action would bring down the Roman Empire – to bring in a new world order; to introduce that new Kingdom that he kept talking about.
And Jesus’ response is that: “it’s not for you to know the time when this will happen. But my going means that you will get power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Power to do all that I can do. So, it’ll be for you, not me, to bring in the new Kingdom.”
Because Jesus didn’t come to be the centre of attention. He came to transform us through love. To heal us and redeem us. To make us look out and not in.
Love not sacrifice
In the Ascension story in Acts 1, two men suddenly appear asking the apostles: “What are you doing staring up there?” It’s rather like the line in To Kill a Mockingbird: “There are just some kind of people who’re so busy worrying about the next world that they’ve never learned to live in this one”.
Ascension is a strange time. We mention it in the creed most weeks. But, unlike Christmas and Easter, there’s no bank holiday here. No cards or presents exchanged. But it’s that vital part in the church year when we’re told by God to get on with it. “I’ll give you the tools and I’ll give you the back-up. Now go and bring the Kingdom of God to this place.”
Because that’s what we were put here to do, that’s what we’ve been empowered to do.
And that may mean feeding the hungry or clothing those who need it. It may mean fighting for justice and equality. Or it may just mean looking at each other rather than up to the sky. Getting to know and care for each other. As it says in Hosea: “What I want is love, not sacrifice.” Ian