Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 29 May 2022.
• First Reading: Acts 1:1-11 (The Ascension of Jesus, 40 days of appearances to the disciples)
• Psalm 47
• Epistle: Ephesians 1: 15-23 (Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians – the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so as to know Him better)
• Gospel: Luke 24: 44-53 (Jesus’ instructions – opened their minds to understand the scriptures)
During the coming week the nation will be celebrating the platinum jubilee of HM the Queen. It has been a remarkable time of the construction of an elaborate welfare state and national withdrawal from empire.
There have been many military engagements, the economy has changed from one centred on manufacture to a service economy, and attitudes to practically all aspects of relationships have also changed.
Somehow she has kept her balance, founded on a profound sense of duty to both God and the people of the realm. And yes, our national anthem is a prayer that she may be happy and glorious, long to reign over us. God save the Queen indeed.
And yet today we are looking at another sort of king. One who is the Word of God and by whose breath the whole of creation was given life and detail. Yet in the middle of the morass of failed morality, He took human form and was born in a stable, was a refugee as an infant and learned a trade to earn His living in Galilee: far from Jerusalem and closer to the trading partners of Israel.
Here there was no glory or privilege, no position or authority. Only the simple humility of One born to be king: King eternal in Israel before whom all kings, presidents and peoples of the world would come and bring their tribute and from whom they would learn their laws.
And the journey from here to there lay through simple and godly teaching of such sublimity that none down the whole of human history has been able to match it. One may live within it or against it, but never surpass it.
And the climax of that life of revelation of the things of God lay on a cross outside Jerusalem, on which the leaders of the nation used the Roman occupiers to execute their king.
And then it all changed – in the unseen blink of an eye, as Jesus was raised from the dead. Even death could not hold back the purposes of God and what had been going on for the last three years was only the starting point of a new course of human history.
And now the crucified king was going home. He was returning to the glory which was His as of right.
At His birth the whole of heaven had exploded into unspeakable joy before the only people awake at the time – the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem.
And during His ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, correcting, inspiring and edifying, doing good without being a do-gooder, doing mighty works so that God might be glorified rather than being a personal publicity stunt, Jesus was treading out His path to the cross, deliberately and doggedly.
He was indeed crucified a king, under the label of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
He was raised to life again, still bearing the wounds of that crucifixion, which He readily displayed to Thomas. He continued to teach, forgive, encourage and reveal things to the disciples.
And then He was raised to glory – received will all due respect and reverence by a cloud, glorified but still crucified and wounded.
He had gone before His disciples – the disciples of His time and of all times and places since then – to be glorified and yet utterly approachable. No special protocols or security checks. No special forms of behaviour or address or clothing.
A simple prayer, maybe starting ‘Our Father’ and continuing as He had taught it. A simple promise that wherever the disciples were, then Jesus would be with them, to the very ends of the world and into every kind of human extremity. He would be there with His people, just as Daniel had told of one like a Son of Man who joined His faithful servants in the fiery furnace.
Jesus had already taken the blame for all human wickedness and rebellion as He died on the cross.
Now He was hearing the pleas of His disciples in every place and time.
And so today, He is present with the soldiers of Ukraine facing the onslaught of their invaders, and with the starving of Africa as they lack simple access to food and water in the face of drought and civil war and the plundering incompetence of their own governments.
He is there with every grieving parent, every crying child and trafficked soul, sold into a nightmare of exploitation and abuse.
We may be tempted to say of the ascension of Jesus –‘How nice’ and then to ignore it as we pursue our political and economic interests.
But Jesus was not raised and did not ascend just for His own amusement or glory. He rose so that we also in every land and era might approach Him, in simple trust with our personal needs and the needs of our church, our city and our nation.
He rose so that we may open ourselves to His vision for our lives and church, His power and authority in proclaiming His good news, His power in healing and blessing and forgiving. The power and glory of His worship and His steadfastness in the face of adversity.
And now is indeed a good time to renew our commitment of faith in His life and death and resurrection. His release from every condemnation that we meet, and His power to live His life in the times before us when our own resources fail.