Sermon for the Sunday after the Ascension 2023
The angels in Luke’s account of Jesus return to his Father in this morning’s new testament reading are eager to move the disciples forward into the awesome task the Lord has set before them- to go into all the world and bring it the news of salvation, offering healing to a disordered world. There is no need for them to gaze heavenwards. Peter at least gets the message. In his letter he reminds his community that they can be confident. The path ahead is already secured. Their Master now pleads for them at the right hand of his Father, and expects them to join him in the glory. Their inheritance of eternal life is kept in heaven already for them. He writes, “Through faith you are being protected by God’s power for a salvation that is ready to be revealed at the end of this age.”
Bishop Christopher Wordsworth says as much in his wonderful Ascension hymn. “Thou hast raised our human nature- Man with God is on the throne”.
For now the disciples need to focus on the task in hand, as heralds of the Gospel. In scripture we are told that angels are always in a hurry, swift to do God’s bidding, but their message to the disciples is measured and respectful of our human limitations and frailty, as we face the demands of our calling. “Wait!” say the heavenly messengers, “until you are clothed with the power of the Spirit from on high.” This is not a mission to be embarked on in our own strength, or with our own agenda. We need to be equipped and guided if we are to fulfil what Christ asks of us; a need to be fed and directed by prayer and scripture, and the sacraments.
There is an apocryphal story that when Jesus arrived at his Father’s side the angels asked what plans he had set in place for the redeeming of the world. He pointed to the motley crew of followers he had left on earth, and they fell about laughing. Jesus silenced them and said, “I have made no other arrangements!”
Saint Teresa of Avila encapsulates the breath-taking trust the Lord has in us to complete his work.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes; you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
And so today; clumsy and hesitant as we are, we too come together to the place of waiting and prayer; praying for the outpouring of the Spirit alongside Our Lady and the holy women and the Apostles. Praying for the Spirit to bring us, and the world, sanity and healing. As the Lord leaves his company of friends on earth he turns our gaze to a needy and waiting world, but he sends us his Spirit to empower and guide us as we work to bring in the Kingdom of God, the new creation which the Spirit will breathe life into.
We have come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week. A recent article and editorial in the Lancet describes some health research from Denmark, which has discovered that spiritual concerns remain important to patients, and that this is often neglected by health-care professionals. Many of us who have worked within the NHS have tried over the years to suggest that every patient should have the chance to have some form of spiritual assessment alongside any clinical assessment, This neglect, or worse, and much more likely, the dismissal of spiritual needs was of course was the reason that the charity I work with, APCMH, was founded all those years ago, to answer the spiritual and pastoral needs of people struggling with their mental health.
The Danish research team heard from over 26 thousand people. 81.9 per cent of these reported at least one strong or very strong spiritual need within the past month. This was regardless of any formal religious commitment. Four types of spiritual need were identified- the longing for prayer and worship; an existential need for such experiences as forgiveness, or to think about the journey forward beyond death; Humankind has a need to find inner peace, and places of quiet, safe places to talk over fears and worries, and to find reassurance that our lives are meaningful and have value. This research acknowledged the fact that although Denmark is a predominantly non-religious culture “most Danes experienced spiritual needs.” This should encourage us to know that the world, whether it knows it or not, has a deep longing for the things of the Spirit, and that we already hold such precious gifts within the community of faith, gifts to be lived out, celebrated, and shared. Today our Annual Meeting give us the opportunity to reflect on how good we are at exhibiting Christ’s mercy and love, and how we might increase our dialogue with our local community, as we offer it the things that belong to its peace.
Christi calls us to celebrate and create a place of safety and forgiveness, meaning and direction, compassion and the assurance of eternal life, where each of us can develop and share the gifts that God has given us.
And so we pray-
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.”