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This pattern of reflection is designed to encourage us to deepen our understanding of what it means to be an Easter people.

The reflection was used as part of our Morning Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter which you can view on our Facebook page or on this YouTube video.

From Ascension Day to Pentecost we will also be using a different pattern of readings and psalms each day which can be found here or in a version to print as a booklet here.

God's Tent on a darkened sky landscape

Opening Question

Reading Scripture

Luke 24: 44-end

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Reflection

Robert Caro’s monumental “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” is one of the great works of political biography. It is extraordinary for many reasons. For one thing, it has taken Caro longer to chronicle Johnson’s political career (38 years and counting) than the length of that career itself. Caro’s work is also is the go-to source for politicians themselves. The account of Johnson’s ability to use and mould the levers of power to his will not just as President, but also as a member of Congress has inspired a generation of politicians seeking to emulate Johnson’s remarkable political career. But perhaps its most important legacy is as a deep study in the form and nature of power. Power, we all know, corrupts, but as Caro incisively notes, “what is seldom said, but what is equally true, is that power reveals”.

I have found that quote going round and round by head through the past months of the health crisis. It might seem strange to frame our experience of the Covid-19 pathogen and its consequences in terms of “power”. After all a virus has no consciousness or animus; it just is. But the consequences of the virus not just for us, but for all of humanity, has been nothing if not powerful. Schools remain closed, businesses in suspended animation, life has been turned upside down. Our lives now take on a different structure and shape in terms of where we go and what we do because of the power that this virus and its deadly consequences have had over us.

As I have said before it is perhaps a little hasty to come to firm conclusions about this period in our lives. But, drawing on Caro’s framework, if we think about the power of this virus and crisis in our common life, we can note what things this power has “revealed”. 

It has revealed that our social-care system is, compared to our National Health Service, woefully under supported and managed within our national life. This virus targets the most vulnerable in our society and where it has found its way into care homes the cost has been terrible. The ability of local-government, already starved of funding by central government, to insulate against this crisis in the care homes in their charge stands in stark contrast to the greater focus and resource that has been given to the National Health Service. What has been cruelly revealed is the gap that exists between health-care and social-care in our country which must, for the sake of our ageing population, be closed if the most vulnerable in our society are not to suffer in this disproportionate way again. 

If the “revealing” power of this crisis has brought to life uncomfortable truths in our society, it has also revealed unexpected truths which we should mark and give thanks for. For instance, we have got used to believing that our society is somehow less kind and caring than it used to be. But this crisis has shown that, surprisingly and joyfully, this is not the case. As I have tried to keep in touch with people across our parishes I have yet to find an example of someone who has not either reached out to somebody else, or been reached out to themselves by a neighbour or friend. Communities have rallied around to form “Covid-19 support groups” explicitly to seek out the most vulnerable and ensure that they are safe and protected through this crisis. What this crisis has revealed is that contrary to popular belief, there is, in twenty-first century Britain, such a thing as society after all.

So what does this reflection on the “revealing” nature of power have to do with Ascension Day. Well Ascension Day contains at its heart a double-revealing. The first and most explicit is the final revealing of Jesus as the Messiah and the glory of the Lord. In the account of the Ascension we heard in our Gospel reading we see Jesus in his true form – revealed as fully human and fully divine – carried into heaven, into the heart of Gods own self.  The second moment of revealing is less dramatic, but no less important. As Jesus prepares to withdraw from the disciples he promises, in the gift of the Spirit, a revealing of God’s “power from on high”. That through the gift of the Spirit the true calling of the disciples, of all who call Jesus Lord, will be revealed. 

For the coming ten-days between Ascension and Pentecost we will be praying “Thy Kingdom Come”. With churches throughout this country and across the world we will be praying that, inspired by the promised power of the Spirit, our hearts would be filled with God’s love to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ in the world. Through these days of pray we will be praying for the revealing power of the Spirit to be present in our lives and in our church.

As we draw our experiences of this health crisis together with our prayers over these coming days, we might find that what God is inviting to become, both individually and as a church, through the power of the spirit has already been revealed to us. If this crisis has revealed to you a newfound calling to prayer, perhaps that is where God’s spirit is calling you. If this time has revealed to you a deeper connection to our community or those in need, this could be where God’s spirit is inviting you to follow. If this crisis has revealed in you new skills and resources you never recognised before, now is the time to be open to the revealing power of the Spirit in you, to take these gifts and use them for God’s glory.

As I have said before, as we live through this crisis, we should be careful not to jump too hastily to conclusions. But that should not stop us recognising and giving thanks for the new things that Spirit is being revealing to us through this time. As we wait and pray over these coming days we are invited to bring together our desire for the gift of the Spirit with our hope and yearning for the world through this ongoing crisis. And as we bring these together, I hope that God’s spirit will reveal in each of us the gifts to seek God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Questions

Prayer