Dear Friends:

Every local Church knows about departure.  People move on.  Often they leave in joy and hope – to study, or to marry, or to take a new job in another place – and we are grateful and glad with them.  Others leave this life after faithful and fruitful service, ‘promoted to glory’, and we praise God for all the grace they have shown and shared.  But we still have to manage without them, to carry forward the fellowship and its work, and to take up the duties they have left.

On some occasions, of course, departures can be harsh and painful.  There are churches that split and quarrel; members who run out of stamina and interest; places where trust and common purpose turn sour – and all that remains is hurt and anger.  There too, you must go on.  You pray for some sort of reconciliation.  But realistically you start to manage without, and you set your stall out in new ways and with new faces.

Others have had to handle these situations too.  The little group of early Christians had to cope with two gaps in their circle.  Ascension is about coping with gaps – a gap of fulfilment and a gap of failure.  Jesus had fulfilled his ministry, completed all that he had been given to do, and his ascension was a sign and seal of all he had accomplished.  But now – how to show that you belong to him, when he apparently isn’t there?

Part of the message of Ascension is that we do not fear absence.  We are a community founded on departure.  When Jesus left his friends, he left them with a witness to bear, that he was alive.
They were Easter people.  They knew why the tomb had been empty.  They could talk at first hand of life greater than death.  They had glimpsed the turning point of history.  They could tell that Jesus was Messiah and Lord.

We are still Easter people.  When Christians part, in the currents of life or through the river of death, we do not part for ever.  We live and we die in hope of resurrection, because we believe in the resurrected Jesus.  As absence people, as a church whose Christ has gone ahead, we are confident that the great issues of time and eternity are in his hands.

So let’s come back to our own church and our own concerns, the friends who move on and the gaps we have to fill.  What are we trying to do when we carry forward the faith, when we look for new hands to set out the stall, new faces to commend the gospel, and new hearts to pray in the kingdom?
Surely we want to do what these first Christians did: to tell of what God has been up to recently, in ways that are credible and convincing; to trust the old, old story of an Easter Lord and a living hope; and to root this confidently in the church’s long experience of the faithfulness of God.

There are still vacancies for people who have been on the edge, to discover that God can do more with them than they realised.  Perhaps God’s invitation is to respond to the gospel of Ascension, with our own offer of service.

We know about departure.  Yet Ascension proclaims that we need not fear to be ‘absence people’, to be a community that faces gaps and sorrows.  For we worship and serve a risen and ascended Lord.  We honour the faithfulness of God through the long years of the past.  And in the Easter gospel, handed on to the church at Ascension, we trust our future to Jesus.

With every blessing:
The Revd Nigel Young