Sunday after Ascension, 1 June 2014, St Mary, morning

Readings Acts 1.6-14, John 17.1-11

Preacher Canon Robert Titley

There are rumours going round. There is talk of doing a Passion play in Richmond in 2015.

A certain city in the North West did it in 2006, so why can’t we? At the climax of the Manchester Passion, the crowd gathered in the city centre to see Jesus put to death, which he was. ‘Thank you very much,’ said actor Keith Allen, who doubled as the presenter and Pontius Pilate, ‘from Albert Square in the heart of this, this great city on Good Friday 2006. Thank you very much and, er, good night.’ And then, from the top of the clock tower, came the voice of Jesus (singing the song of Manchester band The Stone Roses), ‘I am the resurrection and I am the life.’ And a crowd of thousands gaped and pointed and clapped and cheered.

It was great moment (it did look as though some didn’t now how the story ended), great theatre – and, just think, it could happen here – but when God raised Jesus from the dead for real, it was a private affair. No-one saw the resurrection itself, and the risen Jesus did not make a splash by appearing to the crowds in Jerusalem, nor did he make a point by spooking Pontius Pilate behind the closed doors of the Governor’s residence. No – Easter began in an intimate way, as the risen Jesus appeared to his friends. St Paul says that Jesus at one point appeared to over five hundred people at once, but he describes them as Christian brothers and sisters; it was still in the family – albeit the extended family (1 Corinthians 15.6).

And the Christian faith could have stayed like that. It could have become a kind of mystery cult, a new-agey kind of movement offering powerful, private encounters for the chosen few with their own, personal Jesus. But it didn’t. For those first friends of Jesus, there came a point when their relation to him changed; and in the Acts of the Apostles, as we hear today, that point is marked by the story of the Ascension of Jesus.

No longer is he a companion they can touch and see as in Galilee, or even in those bewildering Easter appearances, when it seems they talk to him and he to them just as they used to – that comes to an end. Yet Jesus hasn’t gone: it’s rather that he is now not just for them, but for the world. Now his theatre of his action, once confined to a tiny parcel of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, extends (as Acts puts it) to ‘the ends of the earth’. Now, any voice might speak with his voice. Now, any place, any moment, may become a sacrament, a sign of his real presence. Now there will be nowhere, not even at the ends of the earth, where Jesus’ way of living and dying, his way of trusting, will be irrelevant, because now, he ‘fills all in all’ (Ephesians 1.23).

From that Ascension moment, the first friends of Jesus become like us, his latest friends. Like them we have a world around us, and he sends us out into it, there to find him, praise him, and to bear witness to others. Any place, any decision, large or small, may be the moment of our meeting; and whenever others say, in a worldly-wise way, ‘This is money, this is business, this is politics, different rules apply here’, then we may feel a subversive nudge from the one to whom the Father in the Gospel reading has given ‘authority over all people’.

Do we have it in us to do this, to bear witness to Jesus in this way? There are signs that the wind may not be so much in our faces as it has in the past.

Eleven years ago, a parish in Putney founded Inclusive Church, a movement to work for a church ‘which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ’ as their mission statement puts it. We are members. Back then, in 2003, if you’d talked about the need to ‘serve all people’ in one of the financial services’ watering holes in the City, you might have been called naïve. Well, last week, the City of London hosted a conference on Inclusive Capitalism. Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, Christine Lagarde, they all showed up. Here are excerpts from two speeches.

Capitalism has to prove to society at large that it is a forest for general prosperity…it is up to business to prove that what is good for society is good for business.

Only an economic culture which has ceased to care about future generations could sacrifice so lightly the interests of people far away in geography or in time, and the long-term flourishing of the earth.

One is from Malcolm Brown, an Anglican priest, the other from Lynn Forester, chief exec of investment company EL Rothschild, and it’s not immediately obvious which is which.

Still, though, do we have it in us to do this, to bear witness to Jesus in this way? No, not in our own strength. But nor do they, those first friends of Jesus, Peter and John and James and Mary his mother, that group of men and women long ago in that upstairs room in Jerusalem. But Jesus tells them they won’t have to try to do it in their own strength. He says that they will ‘receive power’ when the Holy Spirit has ‘come upon them’. But, as we hear, for them that is still to come. For now they must pray.

For us, that time of praying expectantly for the gift of the Spirit of God is from this Sunday to next, between today and Pentecost, the great day of the Holy Spirit. They have to wait for it, and so do we.

 

Notes

Inclusive Church http://inclusive-church.org.uk/

Inclusive Capitalism http://www.inclusivecapitalism.org/

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