Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Sing praise!

Having enjoyed singing 'alleluias' from the tower of Guildford Cathedral at midday, this is the text of a sermon preached at the Ascension Day Eucharist: the texts were Daniel 7:9-14, Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
and the anthem 'God is gone up' (Finzi).

The view from the the top of the tower!

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding trumpets’ melodies:
Sing praise, sing praise, sing praise, sing praises out.

In a little while we will hear Finzi’s sitting of those awesome words (here sung by Wells Cathedral Choir)

From the organ’s dramatic fanfare, this anthem is thrilling in its magnificence: songs of praise resound, echoing the trumpets’ melody.  With every breath they take, our choir sing praises out. 

We hear these heart-cramping notes which echo heavens rapturous melody.  Sing praise. 

Their words blend with the organ’s voice more to enravish, as they this tune sing. Sing praises out.

Sing praise.
God is gone up with a triumphant shout. 
Sing praises out.

Finzi holds us in the intensity of rapturous praise as our lips acknowledge God’s glory. He calls us back to song.

But Edward Taylor, the poet who wrote the text, invites to stand alongside the disciples; to ponder another question. The question which was perhaps on their minds as they stood gazing upwards:

Art thou ascended up on high, my Lord,
And must I be without thee here below?

But the point of today’s celebration is that we are not left without: as our risen Lord ascends to the heaven in order that we might be united with him always.

Over the last forty days, we have recalled the resurrection appearances: moments when Jesus was in a particular place, with some of his followers for a finite period of time.  As Luke records, Jesus had opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

This is reality: The one who suffered and rose from the dead has power over death itself.  He has called disciples by name, broken bread with them, invited their touch, spoken words of peace and blessing.  

And now, as they were watching he is lifted up; hidden from their sight. 

How great the temptation to stand looking up; to see this spectacular moment as an ending or as a loss.
Rather it is both the fulfilment and expansion of love.

The one who this day ascends to heaven, is Lord of time and space.  In the words of Daniel - to him is given dominion, glory and kingship.  

This heavenly reign reveals scope of God’s love across all dimensions of the cosmos: it doesn’t undermine our agency as human creatures; but it does relativise the exercise of our freedom and authority.  

Our creaturely vulnerability and competitiveness is drawn into a new reality:  an expanding circle of blessing of merciful judgement and reconciling love. 

Our risen and ascended is Lord is now present to all people, in all places, forever.

Today, we assured that Jesus will pray for us at the right hand of God. We also receive a promise. Jesus promised his disciples that the power of God will be poured out on them through the Spirit. 

They and we, are called to be witnesses: they will tell the story of this man Jesus, the one who is flesh of our flesh; they will tell the story of this man Jesus, the one in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.

They and we, are witnesses to one who revealed love divine from birth to life; from life to death; from death to risen life.   And now as we rejoice in Jesus journey heavenwards, we like those first disciples are sent to the ends of the earth. 

As the one theologian and preacher, Willie Jennings, puts it: Jesus ascends not only to establish presence through absence, but he also draws his body into the real journeys of his disciples into the world. He goes to heaven ahead of us. He goes with and ahead of his disciples into the real places of this world.

The span of our journeys will vary. From our homes we are sent out into real places, places that are particular to us: to the places of work and service, of tribulation and rejoicing; of struggle and refreshment; of waiting and praying; of family and stranger; of excitement and loss. 

We are sent to places we do not expect and perhaps cannot imagine; sent even those places where we fear to tread.  And there we are to witness, bless and sing praises; sing praises out.

Finzi captures the lyricism of Taylor’s devotional poem - fusing words and music into a compelling glimpse of heaven. But the decision to set it as our communion motet roots that vision the most ordinary and intimate of all the real places in this world: in food and fellowship.

For here in bread and wine Jesus gives himself to us. The king of glory enters in. Our risen and ascended Lord makes our bodies the site of his visitation. We become what we touch and taste and see: the body of Christ.  

Today we begin ten days of waiting - a novena of prayer before Pentecost. Let us pray for the Spirit to renew, refresh, empower and equip us that we might witness to God’s love on real journeys and real places.

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding trumpets’ melodies:
Sing praise, sing praise, sing praise, sing praises out.


© Julie Gittoes 2018