By The Reverend Monsignor Harry Entwistle
Sunday 13th May, 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
The New Testament writers agree that the period between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension was short. It was yet another period of 40 days during which Jesus met, conversed with and ate with his disciples. It was the period in which he prepared them to go into the world as his agents and announce that he was not only alive but is the Life.
At the end of his gospel, St Luke tells us that Jesus blessed his disciples and ascended to the Father. The disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Do you think that is odd? They knew they wouldn’t see Jesus again, yet they were full of joy. The had been given a difficult mission to accomplish, namely to convince others that Jesus was alive.
The fact that they were able to do this indicates that though Jesus was no longer visible to them, they did not feel abandoned. What does the Church mean when it says, ‘He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty?’ It does not mean that he floats up into heaven as though in a helium filled balloon, nor does it mean that the Father has two hands and Jesus sits on one of them. It means that Jesus has returned to the place where he was from the beginning, reigning as Lord of heaven and earth and head of his body, the Church. Jesus may not be visible to us as he had been to the disciples, but he is close to us and it was being assured of this closeness that brought the disciples great joy.
The trouble with this word ‘joy’ is that in everyday language it means a pleasurable emotion, a delight. For a Christian it is possible to experience joy even in difficult times such as the Church is experiencing at the moment. The world did not recognise that Jesus and the Father are in unity with each other, so they rejected him, but it was the recognition of this unity between Father and Son that turned CS Lewis from being a nominal believer into a convinced Christian. That conversion occurred for him on a trip to Whipsnade Zoo, north of London. When he set off on that journey he did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. When he arrived, he did. He doesn’t describe his joy at this realisation as a ‘vivid emotion of pleasure,’ but as something like waking in bed after a long deep sleep and recognising you are alive.
The joy of the disciples returning home to Jerusalem after the Ascension is their knowledge that Jesus had returned to his Father, so he is no longer present in one particular part of the world as he was before, but because he is with the father he is present and accessible to us all in all time and places.
Ever since the first Pentecost, the Christian Church has faced a hostile world that does not recognise that Jesus and the Father are so in unity with each other that they are one. At various times in history the Church including our own, has been persecuted, stripped of all its possessions and banished to the edge of pagan secular society. What we are experiencing in our time is not new, but in each of these periods the Church has been forced to ask, “Where is God in this chaos?” It has been challenged to rediscover its message and how to preach it.
The Church’s teaching is to proclaim that God in Christ has already come to us in the flesh and weakness in Bethlehem; he will come again at the end in glory and majesty. In between these events the Lord comes to us in variety of new ways. He comes through his Word, the Scriptures. He comes in the sacraments, especially in the most Holy Eucharist and he comes to us in everyday events in our lives.
Pope Benedict (Jesus vol2 p 291) says he also comes in ways that change the world. The ministries of SS Francis & Dominic changed the world in the 12th century. SS Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius & Francis Xavier and others opened up new ways for the Lord to come and change people and history through his transforming power.
Jesus blessed us all at his Ascension, so we must listen to him, learn from our mistakes and build on our positive ministries. We must remain faithful in our multicultural secular world as those first disciples did, so that empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can bring joy to the world by bringing others to recognise and know Jesus in their lives by living our lives shaped by the faith that God is present in a seeming meaningless world gripped by the power of evil.
Christ triumphant, ever reigning,
Saviour, Master, King!
Lord of heaven, our lives sustaining,
Hear us as we sing:
Yours the glory and the crown,
The high renown, the eternal name!
Michael Saward b 1932
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.