May 16, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
When I was a child I thought as a child.
Specifically, when I was about 9 years old
I went through a phase of refusing to wear any clothes
that weren’t either white or black.
Now that I’m a priest of course I have left childish things behind me,
but at the time my sartorial choices were strongly influenced
by a desire to emulate Han Solo
– the hero in my opinion – of the Star Wars films,
although in truth I also very much wanted to be a Jedi Knight,
like Luke Skywalker,
the official blue-eyed boy of George Lucas Sci-Fi series.
The Jedi bit was always going trickier to pull off:
Not having any diminutive Jedi masters at my disposal,
my training in the ways of the Force consisted of blindfolding myself and, armed with my lightsabre,
hurling a tiny squash ball against my bedroom wall,
and trying to deflect it by ‘reaching out with my feelings’, whilst it hurtled unerringly back towards me…
Fortunately, it wasn’t just the swordsmanship that appealed.
After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to levitate,
or have Jedi Mind Control at their disposal,
but, I think it was the combination of chivalry
and spirituality that really fired my lasers.
If there had been a Shaolin Monastery in the small Irish village in which I grew up I would have shaved my head and signed up on the spot.
Even so, as I say, these weren’t straightforward fantasies –
it was still Han with his wisecracking worldliness
that I admired most,
not the airy-er, fairy-er, Luke, for all his latent Jedi tendencies.
Friends- as you can tell, it was a confusing time.
It’s really a miracle I turned out to be so stable…
What I needed in those days, of course,
was Han’s ability to realise that life isn’t always black and white,
AND Luke’s ability to recognise that clothes needn’t be either.
We know- don’t we- that thinking in excessively black and white terms
isn’t reserved to 9 year-old Star Wars fans.
It is something human beings are always strongly disposed to doing,
and transcending those categories
can be even more demanding than the Jedi ability to defy gravity.
Which brings us to the story of another sky walker, to the Ascension,
and to the numerous challenges it presents.
At first glance we might be tempted to dismiss the details as the stuff of childish thinking.
Heaven isn’t in the sky, and ideas of Jesus making his way up into the clouds seem more like Jack & the Beanstalk or the Indian Rope Trick than grown up religion.
But the Ascension, like the whole story of the man Christ Jesus, is one that deliberately defies black and white thinking.
Above all, the Ascension, and the ensuing outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost,
completes the work of the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of our Lord,
in undermining the black and white divisions
between heaven and earth,
between humankind and the Divine.
And it does so by adopting, and subverting, our most basic religious vocabularies.
The first thing to say is- of course- a god, or a deified human would rise into the sky –
after all in nearly every culture, the earliest gods worshipped, have been variants of a sky god –
and, a great many of our more sophisticated expressions of worship
have maintained something of a fixation with height.
We’ve built towers or totem poles; our Holy men have gone up mountains or our gods frequented them, and our angels or messengers had wings and come down from on high.
But the Ascension is not about that. There is no Pie in the Sky here.
This story is about the separating veil between the celestial and terrestrial being torn apart,
about the beginning of a process that will see death destroyed,
the heavenly city descend,
the most high god make his permanent dwelling in the midst of his creation,
and humanity itself bodily taken up into the eternal godhead.
Just as the Incarnation saw the Divine and the human joined inseparably
in the person of the man Christ Jesus,
so the Ascension marks the beginning of humankind being taken into God.
Just as the resurrection opened the grave, so the ascension opens heaven.
It calls us to live lives that defy the old distinctions –
the eternal life of heaven itself,
in the down to earth realities of the here and now.
When I was in my black and white phase,
I was unwittingly enacting a very old idea –
one deliberately woven into the Star Wars story in its homage
(witting or otherwise) to the Ascension –
by trying to put on the clothes of my hero…
We are supposed to take up His mantle.
Where he goes we are supposed to follow.
That the whole reason for his going is precisely our following
That in his going we then are ‘clothed with power from on high’
to take up his mission, to live the life of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
And so at this Ascensiontide we are challenged, not to look up into the sky,
but to pray to the God who is WITH US NOW
be filled with His Spirit
to grow up, together, into the likeness of Christ.
As we, with the whole Church, pray- THY KINGDOM COME
these next nine days
Let us pray that we may be corporately, conformed to the image
of the one who is above all black and whites,
who is through all and in all
And to pray that we might prepared
for Gods Kingdom to come in & through us.
As St. Paul puts it:
“We must no longer be children,
tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine…
But…we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
O God, whose dearly beloved Son was, by thy mighty power, exalted that he might prepare a place in thy kingdom of glory for them that love thee:
So lead and uphold us, O merciful Lord, that we may both follow the holy steps of his life here upon earth, and may enter with him hereafter into thy everlasting rest; that where he is, we may also be; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN