A Service for Ascension Day

HYMN - Hail the day that sees him rise - Llanfair

OPENING PRAYER
King of Glory, give us grace and energy to glorify you with hearts and hands and voices.   Fill us with the joy that inspired your first followers to spread your good news through all the world so that we may share the elation of the Resurrection with those in need of your presence.  Bring light to all those who walk in darkness and comfort those who dwell in sorrow so that they may rejoice in your love.   As we celebrate your ascension, open our hearts so that you may dwell in us and among us. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
The grace of God has dawned upon the world with healing for all,
Let us come to him, in sorrow for our sins, seeking healing and salvation.  cf Titus 2.11

Lord our God,
in our sin we have avoided your call.
Our love for you is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Have mercy on us;
deliver us from judgement;
bind up our wounds and revive us;
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. cf Hosea 6

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE COLLECT
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens,
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

FIRST READING - Acts 1.1-11

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 during 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 toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward 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.”

HYMN The head that once was crowned with thorns - St Magnus

GOSPEL - Luke 24.44-53
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Sermon
As many of you will have heard me say tediously often, I find Ascension Day difficult. I have to work at it a bit, it all seems a little contrived to me. I have become rather a minimalist over the years and there is something far too fantastical for me in Lukes’ account of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles.

Rowan Williams, as he has so often, has come to my rescue in finding meaning in a piece of ancient orthodoxy. 

In one of his Ascension Day sermons he uses the experience of putting a light on for the first time on a dark morning and being dazzled. "At first you’ve been so conscious of the light that you can't use it to see with.” He goes on to say that eventually you are able, not to focus on the light, but on the world the light shows you.

He uses the metaphor to explain that the resurrection must have dazzled and confused the disciples, but, he says, the Ascension marks the point at which Jesus stops being an object to concentrate on in itself and "becomes more deeply and permanently present.” As St Matthew puts it, ”I am with you always, to the end of time." 

He is with us as the light to see by. We see the world in a new way because we see it through him, we see it with his eyes. As he is committed to the world so are we.

Williams goes on to say, ”Ultimately, to have faith in Jesus is to let your life, your way of relating to the world, be transformed into the pattern of Jesus's life - not to acquire an intriguing new hobby, the study of religious experiences."

"We think about Jesus not as someone completely outside us, but as the power in us gradually setting us free to see the world with clarity, hope and love. Jesus does not greedily demand attention for himself; he points us to the God who he calls father, and enables us to go on our journey towards God the Father as he himself did, by the path of commitment to the world.

"When Jesus is seen no more in the old way, that does not mean he has abandoned the world, so that we must go and look for him outside it - ‘looking up into the sky’ like the disciples. His life is being lived in us: the new world is being brought to birth in us, gradually and sometimes painfully. We are caught up in the eternal movement of God’s commitment to his creation. In and through Jesus we too have become a sign of promise. The light is on; the morning has come. The daystar from on high has dawned upon us.”

Thank you Rowan, Jesus as a light to see by, not as a light to be dazzled by - that will do for me on this Ascension Day.

ANTHEM  Lift up your heads O ye gates - from Handel’s Messiah

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Let us declare our faith
in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS
We pray to Jesus who is present with us to eternity, saying,

Jesus, Lord of life:
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, light of the world,
bring the light and peace of your gospel
to the nations. . . 
Jesus, Lord of life:
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, bread of life,
give food to the hungry. . .
and nourish us all with your word.
Jesus, Lord of life:
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, our way, our truth, our life,
be with us and all who follow you in the way. . . 
deepen our appreciation of your truth,
and fill us with your life.
Jesus, Lord of life:
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, Good Shepherd who gave your life for the sheep,
recover the straggler, bind up the injured,
strengthen the sick
and lead the healthy and strong to acts of kindness…
Jesus, Lord of life:
in your mercy, hear us.

Jesus, the resurrection and the life,
we give you thanks
for all who have lived and believed in you. . . 
raise us with them to eternal life.
Jesus, Lord of life:
in your mercy, hear us.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, 
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, 

your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive 

those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
God the Father,
who has given to his Son the name above every name,
strengthen you to proclaim Christ as Lord.
God the Son,
who is our great high priest passed into the heavens,
inspire you with his compassion. 
God the Holy Spirit,
who pours out his abundant gifts upon the Church,
make you faithful followers of Christ our King.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless you and keep you, always. Amen

HYMN Hail Thee festival day

The following url won't work from a website, but you can copy and paste it into another browser window (crt N or cmd N) - it is by far the best version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzk-2RManE8

Alternatively this will work from here, but it is without the words and less exciting.

TO END

The Lord bless you and keep you - Rutter

Psalm 47 O Clap Your Hands - Orlando Gibbons - VOCES8