The first time I visited The Chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham –
I tried to stifle a smile.
The Chapel itself, by Walsingham standards,
is quite understated and simple,
but your eyes are drawn upwards to view above you
a silver-coloured plaster cloud, with a pair of feet stick out..
And as you look closer, you see the hem of Jesus’ robe
just above the dynamically-poised feet of Our Lord,
with the scars of crucifixion, from which emanate
rays of heavenly light as His body is depicted in ascension.
Is it blasphemous to describe this depiction as a little bit Kitsch……
but to many people these days
the whole idea of faith is viewed that way.
St Paul warned us, even two thousand years ago,
that for many, faith would seen as a stumbling block and foolishness.
On this Sunday after Ascension, let us allow our faith
to be a little more absurd; let us be unashamedly illogical.
Those who reject a literal, historical reading of the Ascension
can’t deny that the depiction of a pair of feet sticking out of a cloud
makes the point. Jesus disappearing through the ceiling
is a powerful, in-your-face visual representation of his leave-taking.
Few of us these days believe that Heaven is ‘somewhere up there’.
C S Lewis in his book “Miracles”,
observes that Heaven to our modern mind is not ‘up there’,
but possibly imagined as being such by first-century fishermen.
The only way the disciples could understand the removal of Jesus
was by Him ascending, regardless of what actually went on.
Yuri Gagarin, the first human to go into space,
was asked on his return by the-then Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev –
"So tell me, Yuri, did you see God up there?"
After a moment's pause. Gagarin answered, "Yes sir, I think I did."
Khrushchev frowned. "Don't tell anyone," he said.
A few minutes later the head of the Russian Orthodox Church
took Gagarin aside. "So tell me, my child," he asked Gagarin,
"did you see God up there?'" Gagarin hesitated and replied
"No sir, I did not."
"Don't tell anyone." the Patriarch replied.
What the Ascension means,
rather than what precisely occurred that day,
is that Christ returned to the Father
so that He could be with us always (to the very end of the age);
in order that we would not be left abandoned, “orphans”.
This is what matters most, not the mechanics of the miracle.
At His Ascension, Jesus went before us into the future…
into OUR future. Jesus, sovereign, is there ahead of us.
All shall be well.
The Apostle Peter, in his post-Ascension experience,
reminds us in his first letter, chapter 2. (21)
“Jesus is your example, and you must follow in his footsteps.”
The Ascension leaves us no choice but to step in His footprints,
going exactly where He steps, and following His actions
in every circumstance we face.
The shortest but most complete biography of the life of Christ
is recorded in Acts 10:38 where St Luke says that Jesus
“went about doing good.”
That’s what Jesus’ life was all about.
He did good wherever He went.
His life was one of mercy, pity and compassion.
He cared about those who were less fortunate.
His heart broke for the sick, the weak, the crippled and the blind.
He wept alongside others over the loss of their loved ones.
He felt the pain of parents who lost their children.
He felt the pains of hunger that were felt by the crowds
who wandered out to hear Him.
He was a friend to the people who had no other friends.
He went into the lowliest places of society
and salvaged the wrecks of humanity.
He gave hope to the hopeless
and he gave help to the helpless.
Living our faith, following the footsteps of Jesus,
will lead us into service.
This is where Jesus spent the vast majority of His time.
The Ascension of Jesus challenges us to do the same.
to follow in Christ’s foosteps:
“Oh, let me see Thy footmarks, And in them plant mine own; My hope to follow duly Is in Thy strength alone. Oh, guide me, call me, draw me, Uphold me to the end; And then in heaven receive me, My Saviour and my Friend.”
Let St Teresa of Avila have the last word through a prayer made famous
by The Grail Community:
Heavenly Father, you have entrusted to us
the very mission of your Son;
we are to be his presence in the world,
his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Christ has no body on earth but ours.
He has no hands but ours to raise up the fallen,
no feet but ours to seek out the lost.
He has no eyes but ours to see the silent tears of the suffering:
no ears but ours to listen to the lonely.
He has no tongue but ours to speak a word of comfort to the sad:
no heart but ours to love the unloved.
Father, send us the Holy Spirit
so that we can be the body of Jesus our Lord.