Thursday 14th May 2015
Sermon preached by Archbishop Justin Welby at the Ascension Day Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London.
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Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
Ascension is about power and victory, but not as we know it.
If you’re a fan of Star Trek you’ll hear the allusion: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” Though I’m told no one ever actually said that, any more than Sherlock Holmes said, “Elementary, my dear Watson”. But even though I am not a Trekkie it’s a good line.
Ascension is about power or victory, but not as we know it. The accounts include words like ‘power’, ‘Kingdom’, ‘witness’, ‘proofs’, and ‘promise of the Father’ – such that the disciples, who weren’t any quicker on the uptake after the resurrection than before, ask about the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.
If power is going to be given to them surely that means conquest? If Jesus speaks of a Kingdom surely they are about to see it? Given the proof that he has overcome death, are they themselves the witnesses – the honoured heralds, sent in the name of the Lord?
No, it is not as we know it. The power is intangible and does not make us superman or wonder woman. The Kingdom is elusive and invisible. The proofs and promises will be disbelieved by many. The victory offers no conclusive culmination, only a beginning; while being a witness invites danger, leading to sacrifice and suffering, if not death.
The power that comes is to be given away not hung onto; Jesus was no Mugabe clinging to power. There would be no public glory or acclaim, merely hard work and sacrifice, like most of those who serve the church round the world today. I spoke to someone yesterday working for reconciliation in a civil war, whose name will never be known outside the circles of his own friends – yet he carries a cross of suffering for Christ.
Put like that it makes the worst of any recent party manifesto looks like words of gold, to which people would flock by contrast. Few would be elected on the manifesto of Jesus, surely?
Yet the church grew at such a rate, despite opposition and suffering, that 300 years later the Empire that had casually swiped away the life of Jesus with the sort of attention we might give to a mosquito, found itself honouring and converting to the faith. The same disciples who beforehand seem foolish and act only in their own interests, were willing to lay down their lives, confident in the promises of God, the Kingdom of God and the triumph of Christ.
The Ascension is victory, power and life, but not as we know it.
Read HERE the entire sermon.