This Thursday is Ascension Day – the Gospel is Mark 16.15-20 or Luke 24.44-53
Hebrews 12 describes Jesus as the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our salvation’. On Ascension Day, we see where our ‘pioneer’ is leading us. His humanity, and through it ours, finds its destination in God.
As Charles Wesley wrote
Soar we now where Christ has led
Following our exalted Head
Made like him, like him we rise
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies
Like the disciples, we are called to be ‘witnesses’ (Luke 24.48) to this great hope – in our words, our deeds and our common life as Christ’s Church.
Sunday’s Gospel reading is John 17.11b-19
The Gospel reading for Sunday reminds us that this ‘witness’ has a cost. This is inevitable if our lives point to Jesus’ Kingdom, and to the values of the Gospel – for he, the ‘pioneer of our salvation,’ was both rejected and glorified.
To quote another Ascensiontide hymn
The head that once was crowned with thorns
is crowned with glory now;
a royal diadem adorns
the mighty Victor’s brow.
The lives of Christians will have the same pattern as his:
They suffer with their Lord below,
they reign with him above,
their profit and their joy to know
the mystery of his love.
As well as going before us, Jesus abides with us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he continues to accompany us upon our journey. The promise of that Spirit is at the heart of the readings and prayers in the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost:
O God the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: we beseech you, leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
The Holy Spirit does not remove us from the world (v15) but we aren’t to “belong to it” either (v16). Following Jesus, we are called to inhabit the world in a way that transforms and renews it.
Pray for church leaders involved in the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network as they meet for a residential training event this Tuesday and Wednesday – including an evening on Growing the Church Through Social Action with Church Urban Fund CEO Tim Bissett and Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie