Happy Ascension Day. I’ve always enjoyed this day, especially when the sun shines confirmation of God bestowing his glory on his Son, reflected on earth. I remember as a university student we always celebrated Ascension day in the chaplaincy gardens – it was a wonderful event, full of joy. It was also a wonderful break from the stress of revision for the exams which were almost upon us.
Now I’m sure it will not come as a surprise to you to know that at both university and theological college I was Head Sacristan, responsible for the liturgical life of both chapels and always an opportunity for high jinks. Ascension day at theological college was our college feast so we invited supporters, the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal church and the governors of the theological college for a celebration mass at the Cathedral.St Mary’s Cathedral, in Edinburgh and afterwards for a feast in college. The cathedral stands on Palmerston Place, in the New Town, it is quite a Gothic pile, with three huge spires, its construction paid for by two spinster sisters. Apparently, rumour had it, in the title deeds there was a note stating that if incense was ever used in the cathedral the building was to be offered to the Church of Scotland. Well there was a challenge I couldn’t refuse. St Mary’s is a very large building and I’m proud to say that I filled it with holy smoke, so much smoke it was difficult to see the Nave altar and what is more the place still belongs to the Episcopal Church! It’s good to push the boundaries sometimes. The resurrection pushed the boundaries of the disciples, they were forced to look at their faith, the world and God in a new light, empowered by the Holy Spirit they grew in confidence and faith, these first witnesses are our models of faith, may we like them, be bold in living and proclaiming what we celebrate today.
I hope you have been able to enjoy the warmer weather we have had in the past week, but I don’t forget those essential workers who have been toiling away with very little free time to enjoy the sunshine. I have met several of our parishioners while out on our daily exercise walks and it has been good to stop and chat, while maintaining our distance, of course!.
Today I am sharing a sonnet for Ascension Day, written by the priest poet Malcolm Guite. It is taken from his book ‘Sounding the Seasons’ and reproduced with his permission. I bought a copy of his book when he came to speak to Kensington clergy earlier this year and I find his work a wonderful source of inspiration.
Guite writes of this poem:
‘In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours. The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.’
We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .
With every blessing to you all this Ascensiontide.