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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Collect for Ascension Day
you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven:
help us to seek and serve you,
that we may join you at the Father’s side,
where you reign with the Spirit in glory,
now and for ever.
The Lord is king and has put on glorious apparel;
the Lord has put on his glory
and girded himself with strength.
He has made the whole world so sure
that it cannot be moved.
Your throne has been established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of many waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea,
the Lord on high is mightier.
Your testimonies are very sure;
holiness adorns your house, O Lord, for ever.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
There have been many attempts to represent the Ascension of Our Lord in artistic form down the centuries. Some of the most comical show the apostles standing on a hillside staring up at a cloud from which a pair of feet can be seen protruding. Artists who have attempted to depict this scene have, of course, made the mistake of trying to give us a visual representation of that which is far beyond our mortal understanding. As we say every Sunday, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. How can such a thing be represented by our puny human imaginations? Rather than wrestling with a visual image we should be striving to accept the greatness of God’s power and Jesus’ place in that greatness.
We know that both the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same person, and that they are both addressed to Theophilus. We do not know whether this term referred to a particular individual or whether the author was using it as a general form of address. However, we do know what it means: friend of God, or beloved of God, or loving God. The gospel which ends with an account of Jesus’ Ascension and the earliest account of the newly formed community of faith (Church) which begins with a similar account, are both addressed in the same way. Luke’s words are for those who love God and who are loved by God.
Today’s reading is the account we are given at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. In it we are reminded of the contemporary proofs of Christ’s resurrection. In this carefully constructed narrative there is the underlying question: what more evidence do you need? And towards the end of the passage the two men in white robes ask: why do you stand looking up towards heaven?
The Ascension of Our Lord is not the end of the story, rather it is another beginning. This beginning is one in which we are called to be active participants and not spectators. Throughout his earthly life Jesus gave us a model of love and service. He called us to follow him as faithful disciples (no matter how great the cost) and he called us to go out in his name in order that others might come to know the truth and the joy of God’s love in their lives.
The Ascension is one of the great mysteries of our faith. We will not come anywhere near understanding it until we stand in God’s presence at the end of time. Rather than wrestling with bizarre visual images of that which our human minds cannot comprehend, let us take its message to heart. Let us not stand staring into heaven, but let us play our part in bringing the reality of that heaven into the lives of others.
Prayers of Intercession
With hearts and minds lifted to Christ who has ascended on high, let us pray.
As we join with all Christian people in giving praise for the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for the Church that he left to continue his work on earth. Faithful to her calling, may she witness to his glory by declaring and practising his saving love.
We pray that through the glorified humanity of Jesus all people may be brought to a better understanding of our human nature. Teach all to respect the dignity and rights of others as children of one Father.
Grant that in our daily lives our vision may not be limited by present concerns. May all that we do, in our families and in our work, be seen in the light of Christ and offered to him as the Master of all our service.
Have mercy on all who suffer in body or mind. Give them strength and hope in the ascended Christ. May his passage from suffering to glory lift them out of their troubles into new life.
We give thanks for all who have gone where Christ has led, whose human nature has been transformed in his presence. Teach us to be ready to follow them, confident in his love and guided by his example.
We offer these prayers through the divine power of Christ, shed abroad in all the world.
Prayer for the week
Grant that your Church, O God,
here and in every place,
may offer a living worship to you in your glory,
and a living witness to the world in its need;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne;
hark, how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King
through all eternity.
Matthew Bridges (1800–1894)