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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Living in the Light, Working with the Light



Attached as a post is the text I used for a radio broadcast on our community radio station, something most of the inner city churches share in.  As luck would have it, my turn coincided with the Sunday after Ascension and this strange feast was an opportunity to reflect.

This week Thursday 25 May was forty days after Easter, it is a day we know as
Ascension Day.  For centuries this has been the day when the Christian has observed the memory of Jesus’s bodily ascent to heaven.  This is the day when the Easter season is complete,  Christs’s work is now done and he departs, leaving us, the church, to carry it on.  The number forty is based on Luke’s comments in Acts 1:3: ““He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”

The famous Roman Catholic scholar and apologist Ronald Knox was at one time chaplain to a girl’s boarding school and he wrote an extraordinary little book on the Apostles Creed  with the engaging title, Through the Creed in Slow Motion. However when he came to the chapter on the ascension, he said very little and pointed out that he didn’t think there was much that we could say because, after all it was all happening in a cloud and out of our sight so no description could be much use. Instead he made his readers think as he began to question some details, for instance the allusion to the forty days. He asked why Jesus took so long before leaving his disciples for another dimension – for example, why did Jesus not ascend on Easter Day?  Knox talked about what is to have friends and what it means to say good bye and how the disciples needed time to  be able to say goodbye and to come to grips with the mystery of the resurrection and time to come also to realise what the church was going to have to be and do.  That makes perfect sense to me.

Talking about this, I also have in the back of my mind the memory of a meditation on the subject by Rowan Williams’ the former Archbishop of Canterbury.  He begins with the simple analogy of what it is like for us in the morning us when we wake, look for our glasses and first turn on the light – how in the bright glare of that first light we need a bit of time to adjust and take our bearings, don’t we?

Williams suggests that the gospels are full of that kind of early morning disorientation as the disciples first try to make sense of the resurrection; and that it takes them quite a while for the understanding to dawn that the resurrection shows God at work; and, even more than this, for them to understand that they no longer need focus on the event of the resurrection itself but instead to allow the resurrection to become the light by which they (and we) start to see the world. 

Ascension Day marks this subtle shift in our attention as, because of Jesus, we see and understand the world differently.  In the light of the Ascension we start to understand Jesus as the power now within us working to change and transform us to see the world with faith and hope and love.

To live like that is to include everyone, exclude no one.  It is to care for our world, our planet and all the species we share it with.  To understand the world in this way is to see clearly for the first time; it is truly living in the light and working with the light.


We see this clearly in action this past week in response to the Manchester bombing – despite the horror and darkness, even through the darkness, the affirmation of love rather than hate has been clear.  That is living in the light and working with the light!


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