Sunday Worship for 16th May – Ascension Sunday
The Rev’d Dr Michael Jagessar
Call to Worship
One: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Many: He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
One: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness
of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines
upon you! Let this place resound with joy, as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Hymn Immortal Invisible, God only wise
Walter Chalmers Smith
God only wise,
In light inaccessible
hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious,
the Ancient of Days,
thy great Name we praise.
2: Unresting, unhasting,
and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains
high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains
of goodness and love.
3: To all life thou givest—
to both great and small;
In all life thou livest,
the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish
as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—
but nought changeth thee.
4: Great Father of glory,
pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee,
all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render:
O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour
of light hideth thee.
Welcome to worship on Sunday May 16th, 2021 (Ascension Sunday). My name in Michael Jagessar. I am minister of the United Reformed Church currently working with the Council for World Mission (CWM) as its Mission Secretary for the regions of Europe and the Caribbean.
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
We celebrate your life, O risen and ascended one, that like a song invites us in your harmony of grace-filled living. We give you thanks for the life and wonder that thrives within, between, among, and around us. We thank you meeting us in times, moments, and places. Often when we least expect, you surprise us in unexpected ways. Clear our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to discern and see where you reveal yourself and to gladly respond to your gift of grace.
God of grace, we recognise that we allow our lives to be dominated by life-denying engagements and that we are slow to perceive your way and at times not confident to walk that way. Forgive our lack of courage and deliver us from growing despair; embrace our brokenness with your balm of love; cure us of designed unawareness; release us from the clutches of bent mindsets. Free our mind, heart, and body from all that restrict us to live full lives and give us a heart of deep compassion so that we may overflow with the fragrance of your kindness and the freshness of your Spirit.
God, who is always near ready to lift up, forgive and embrace: energise us through your Spirit to be more open to let your grace become the orienting virtue propelling our lives – your heart flowing over, in and through us in renewing love that rejoices joyfully in your name. Amen
Prayer of Illumination
Come, Spirit of love help us to perceive so that we may understand; help us to believe so that we may perceive; help us to attend to your way so that we may believe; help us to breathe together so that the world may believe. Amen
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 over the course of 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 towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’
St Luke 24:44-53
Then Jesus 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 worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Hymn Crown him with many crowns
Matthew Bridges 1800 – 1894
Crown Him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! Heavn’s eternal anthem drowns
all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
of Him who died to be
your Saviour and your matchless
King through all eternity.
2 Crown Him the Lord of life:
Triumphant from the grave
who rose victorious from the strife
for those he came to save.
His glories now we sing
who died and reigns on high
He died eternal life to bring
and lives that death may die.
His kingdom is at hand
from pole to pole let warfare cease
and Christ rule every land.
A city stands on high
His glory it displays
And there the nations, ‘Holy’, cry
in joyful hymns of praise!
4 Crown Him the Lord of years,
the Potentate of time.
Creator of the rolling spheres,
in majesty sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
for your have died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
“….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.” Acts 1:1-11
How do we connect with the Ascension in the midst of a pandemic and at a time of divisive politics, scarcity, despair, fear and death? Where is God when we most need God and how are we responding to such a question? Ever since Jesus rocketed up and into outer space, are we still gazing to the clouds for some imminent return from that ‘seat on the right hand of God? Can it be that our theology and preaching around this event tend to be floating in lofty abstraction, lacking grounding in real-time realities? The question “why do you stand looking up toward heaven has a familiar ring to a similar one posed to the women who came to Jesus’ tomb: “why do you look for the living among the dead?
Perhaps we may wish to see the ascension as an invitation to perspectives. Elevated we may be able to glimpse at a broader perspective on our lives, our communities and the realities around us. Lack of perspective often see us tearing ourselves apart with gate-keeping and theological views that will make Jesus run for cover. Ascension challenges us to bring heaven to earth, that is, to live-out Jesus’ values in our world. When we live from/with a larger perspective, we are better placed to transcend our own self-interests to embrace the well-being of all. Going up for ‘higher ground’ is not an invitation to escape the realities and crises around us: it is to help with perspectives that are larger than ourselves or our communities. We don’t need to look to the heavens to find inspiration. The ever-present God is right here and invites us to look beyond our selves and cliques. Our calling (mission if you prefer) is here: to participate in healing, to embracing, to welcoming, and loving.
Perhaps a challenge is with our understanding of ‘presence’. Barbara Brown Taylor commenting on the Ascension locates the problem with our perception of what ‘absence is about’. We tend to see absence as loss or an impoverishment rather than what she suggests as “a heightened awareness, a sharpened appetite, a finer perception”. Indeed: there is some loss in an absence: there is also hope. So maybe this was what those two people in white robes reminded the gazing group about: look around, across and down rather than up and not only at each other: consider the mundane and everydayness of life. When we stop gazing up and start looking into self and deeper at each other and around us that is where we would more likely find the Divine – in the messiness of our everyday lives and living. Stop staring at the clouds and get going with the world around us! Surprising things will begin to happen!
The ascension underscores that easter is not the final destination: Easter begins a transitioning. The friends of Jesus must once more taste emptiness and detachment and open-up again the once-broken heart yet to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then will they be able to travel beyond their restricted world (cross-over) to “the ends of the earth”. Transitioning carries all sorts of fears largely around our inability to step out of our fear, restrictive and safe zones (the normative). We instinctively see threat- loss-absence-scarcity. Is it not ironic that we are often unable to rejoice at the news of the crumbling of normal and normative: though we are followers of the economy of a new age inaugurated by Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension? Crossing from the familiar means listening deeply with our whole bodies and our hearts to one another: it also requires honest/open scrutiny of our own habits and attitudes that continue to exclude contrary to the fullness of life way of Christ. There were lots of fears in those hearts (like ours today) hence, a timely assurance of Holy Spirit accompanying us.
Are we able and daring to open our hearts and minds to a world still to be revealed to us? The disciples had some great challenges ahead of them. They knew they were not ready. They had to believe in a world that was still coming. The earliest followers were invited to step out of their narrow world – and look less for the dwelling of God and become the dwelling of God. They didn’t wait for everyone to get on board or develop a five-year plan. They kept it simple and grew! They trusted God and one another. They hoped in the promises. Once they awoke from their upward gazing, they decided they might as well learn to take the plunge and swim! Today we are inheritors of this witness! What are we allowing it to do with us?
The little word ‘but’ at the beginning of Acts 1: verse 8 brings us down back to the tasks before us. We are not left all alone. We do have help – we are not alone. The Holy Spirit is not left only to our imagination and thin air: give her something to work with, as our lives take shape and are reshaped in the Jesus way. With others, we embrace the hope of a world that is coming, in order to be sent into the world as it is, witnessing to the transforming power of Jesus – that counter movement of love!
Hymn Seek ye first
Karen Lafferty 1971 BBC Songs of Praise
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness;
And all these things
shall be added unto you.
2: We shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that proceeds out from the mouth of God.
3: Ask, and it shall be given unto you;
Seek, and you shall find.
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Affirmation of Faith
God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery
which the Scriptures describe in various ways.
It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for humankind.
They reveal the gravity, cost,
and sure achievement of God’s reconciling work in which we trust.
Let us pray for all who govern and lead in times of tough choices….. [pause]
Let us pray for those who perform exhausting work…. [pause]
Let us pray for those who live in unsafe and vulnerable situations….. [pause]
Let us pray for the wounded earth our home and for a vision of a new earth…. [pause]
Let us pray for the well-being of all….[pause]
God-immersed-in–all-of-our-life help us to understand the impact our choices and actions have on others. Help us to be faithful to the Jesus way of full and flourishing life for all, living the gospel and working towards life-giving change in an unjust world. May your Spirit instil in us new breathing habits so that with lifted heads, attentive hearts, and relaxed lungs we will find freshness to our thoughts and words and actions, so that we can dream new and transforming possibilities, discern the challenges before us, find life-giving ways to care and embrace, and dare to take risks in the adventure of walking your way of full and flourishing life for all.
And as we prepare to live our prayers, we recall the prayer of Jesus as he prayed……
Move us, O God beyond occupation with buildings and edifices to participation in your mission to bring peace and justice in a broken world. Move us beyond the giving of money to the giving of ourselves. Help us to see where you want us to be and guide us as we seek to follow Christ among those we know and love as well as in the company of strangers – so that our very presence may be our finest offering.
Hymn Give to me a thankful heart
Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart
and a discerning mind;
Give, as I play the Christian’s part,
the strength to finish what I start
and act on what I find.
2: When, in the rush of days,
my will is habit bound and slow,
help me to keep in vision, still,
what love and power
and peace can fill
a life that trusts in you.
3: By your divine & urgent claim,
and by your human face,
kindle our sinking hearts to flame,
and as you teach the world
let it become your place.
4: Jesus, with all your Church
I long to see your kingdom come:
show me your way
of righting wrong
and turning sorrow into song
until you bring me home
May your heart be kind, generous and expansive like the heavens; may your mind be full of vitality and generosity, like the earth; and may your tongue be baptised with new words and metaphors that are sweet, tasteful, fresh, and unpredictable like streams of running water. And may we, delighting in the movement of God’s Spirit, live by the abundance of God’s grace, finding joy and confidence together.
Sources and thanks
Call to worship adapted from the Exultset by Andy Braunston
Affirmation of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church of America.
all other prayers written by the Rev’d Dr Michael N. Jagessar
Immortal Invisible, God only wise – Walter Chalmers Smith 1867 – Taken from BBC’s Songs of Praise
Crown him with many crowns – Matthew Bridges 1800 – 1894 – Taken from BBC’s Big Sing.
Seek ye first – Karen Lafferty 1971 – Taken from BBC’s Songs of Praise
Give to me a thankful heart – Caryl Micklem – sung by the congregation of Park Central Presbyterian Church
Lobt Gott Ihr Christen (“Praise God ye Christians”) by Johann Gottfried Walther (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (organ of All Saints’, Odiham – 2020)
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
Thanks to Alison Jiggins, Mary McFarlane, Pam Carpenter, Mairi Macdonald and Dan Morrell for reading various spoken parts of the service.