Somehow or other over the last forty to fifty years, Ascension Day seems to have been cut adrift from the other major feast days in the Church of England.  When I was at primary school, we all got marched to church on Ascension Day for a special service and then had the afternoon off as extra holiday.  Nowadays in the Church of England, Ascension is, overall, marked quite soberly and with restraint. In other churches and especially the Orthodox Church, Ascension Day remains a major feast and festival, not just theoretically, but in practice. So, I am really pleased that today’s prayers have been written by a young member of the Greek Orthodox Church, locked down with her grandparents here in Winslow; thank you Zoe.


So why should we take Ascension Day seriously; what is the so what or invitation behind the Ascension? Surely all Ascension, you might think, is the tiny bit of detail wedged between the Resurrection and Pentecost?  Well, it may well be that not much bible footage – in fact just three verses – is given to the Ascension, but that does not mean that it is not hugely significant. In fact, maybe it is so significant that to add extra words, to pan out the story, would be to diminish its significance? Just a thought?

 

The Ascension invites us and beckons us to do two things, or to look in two directions:


First, it invites us to look backwards at story of Jesus’ life, or the incarnation, afresh, from the perspective of a little distance. It invites us to see his life through the lens of Eulogy. This means looking at his life with a sense of praise and thanksgiving, remembering all that he did and achieved on our behalf.
But, a word of caution: please don’t, when you are Eulogising over Jesus’ life, fall into the trap of recollecting the facts of his life – then he did this, then he did that.  Remember the why or the purpose of his life, the value and ethos of his life, and then take that into your hearts, so that you are strengthened to live better, more purposeful lives in the nitty gritty of the here and now and on into your unknown and unknowable futures.

Secondly, the Ascension allows to look forward in a spirit of anticipation to Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. Pentecost is the moment when the church is breathed into being and given a common language spoken in diverse tongues. It is also the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise that he will not leave us orphaned.
Ascension Day invites us to pause and stand stock still, providing us with the opportunity to look back at the life of Jesus, through the lens of Eulogy, in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving, truly remembering all that he achieved through his earthly life, and to look forward to Pentecost in a spirit of hopeful expectation. Through the Ascension, the past and the future are brought into the present.

Today, let us take our part in recapturing the essence of Ascension Day,
Amen.

Gathering:

Good morning & welcome to a short service of thanksgiving for 75th anniversary of VE Day.

Today’s service will take the form of a selection of readings and prayers, whilst we also listen to Holst’s Venus the Bringer of Peace, from The Planets. Between each set of readings & prayers we will keep a period of silence.

This piece of music, along with the readings, has been chosen because the fruit, or reward, for victory is surely peace - good and godly relationships between all people, all nations, for all time. Peace is the greatest of all prizes and the noblest of all outcomes.

But, as well as reflecting on peace and resolving to always work for peace, we must also spend a little time remembering and giving thanks for those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen who lost their lives fighting in Europe, for the sake of universal peace - victory belongs to no one and it belongs to everyone, for the victory that they won is truly a universal victory.

Remembering well, with thanksgiving, is so especially important, for when we remember well, we are strengthened to live better, more peaceful lives - in the here and now and into the future. Our job, yours and mine, is to ripen the fruit of victory, never letting it become bitter or hollow. So, let us keep a minute’s silence whilst we remember those who gave their lives to secure both victory and peace.

SILENCE (1 MINUTE)

A collect for universal peace: Father of all, your risen Son gave new hope to his apostles with words of peace and the assurance of his presence; send your Holy Spirit into the troubled places of the world, bless them with Christ’s gift of peace and strengthen the resolve of all who work to reveal your kingdom on earth as in heaven; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive & reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Reading: Psalm 72:1-8

SILENCE (20 SECONDS)

A Prayer for the Nations. This prayer was written by Eric Milner-White, a former Dean of York Minister who also served as chaplain on the Western Front in the First World War:

‘O God who woulds’t fold both heaven and earth in a single peace, let the design of thy great love lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to thy Church, peace among nations, peace in our dwellings, and peace in our hearts; through thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

And a prayer for peace written by someone unknown; an anonymous author: ‘Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe, Amen.

SILENCE (20 SECONDS)

Let us pray together the words that Our Saviour, the Victor of Life over Death gave us: Our Father….

Blessing:

The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and the blessing…

I have a confession to make, I always have difficulty in differentiating between a naturalist and a naturist, I keep getting the two things mixed up in my head. It doesn’t matter how many times I try to get it straight, if I ever have to talk about it I have to stop and make sure that I am saying the right thing. This, I am sure you can imagine, can make things quite tricky when you are as fond as I am in talking about the natural world and sharing in the bounty of God’s creation.

God’s creation is referred to as “the second book of God”; many of the metaphors and the themes in the Bible can be seen in the natural world around us. It is an image that is glorious far above and beyond our wildest imaginations. You only have to look at the world around us, especially at the moment to see the wonders that it entails. It was the Great American Pioneer Naturalist John Muir (who was actually born in Dunbar, in Scotland) who stated that, “Between every two pine trees is a doorway to a new world”. In the last few weeks I have talked to a lot of people on the telephone, trying to find out if they are alright, have everything they need and many of them have been talking to me about how their garden is a source of joy and pleasure at the moment. Indeed, it's well documented that gardening and being in the natural world has benefits for us all, both physical and in our sense of well-being.

And the reason that I am talking about this is that today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day when we specifically remember Jesus as being the Good Shepherd. We have in the past tended to think of ourselves as his flock. After all, God tells us human beings that we are made in his image. It only makes sense that Jesus should be talking about us when he says that he is our shepherd. But if any of you who watch the big budget nature documentaries on the BBC will have noticed, nothing is an island, all the inhabitants of this earth are interconnected.

As our understanding of how the world develops, we are increasingly being made aware that nothing in this beautiful, wild world of ours is unconnected. For far too long we have thought ourselves as being set apart from nature when the truth is that we are completely reliant on it. If we are called to be Christ-like then we are also called to be shepherds of God’s Creation, just as Jesus is the shepherd of us.

The fact is that looking after our own little patch of ground, whether that is growing veggies in an allotment or tending the roses and nasturtiums around our houses, is beneficial to us. That then suggests that we are born to be custodians of Nature, to look after our world, God’s world, because in the end, as this health emergency tells us, we are but a small part in all its wondrous glory.

In China they have a saying,

           “If you want to be happy for one day, get drunk.

            If you want to be happy for a year, get married

            If you want to be happy for life, be a gardener”.

I think that we should start an organisation, Gardener’s for God, because even if we don’t know how to look after sheep, we do know how to look after Creation and ourselves.

 

Amen.

Rev'd. Mark Nelson