Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: As Far As The Moon

Sunday 29 May 2022
Sunday After Ascension
Revd Nicholas Mercer

I suspect that many of you will know the name Sir William Gilbert

He is one of the two halves of Gilbert and Sullivan, the great Savoy Opera writers

He was a wonderful dramatist and librettist who was knighted for his services to music

It is not unfair to say however that he did not get off to a racing start in life

He first spent four unhappy years as a clerk in the civil service

He then then trained for the bar but the law did not suit him any better either

The story goes that he was representing a female pickpocket at his first ever trial

She was alleged to have been seen by a policeman at night in the commission of her crime

As any advocate will tell you, eye witness evidence can be readily attacked –particularly at night

And the policeman’s evidence was firmly in the sights of this young advocate

Exasperated at the policeman’s resolve however, Gilbert asked him in a fit of peak

“Given that this crime took place at night, just how far could you see”?

To which the policeman replied “As far as the moon”

It is a little unfair to criticise Gilbert on this exchange

Every advocate will recognise and sympathise with cross examination that does play out as expected

However the exchange between Gilbert and the policeman raises an interesting point

Because although the policeman was, probably, unable to see the pickpocket clearly in the gloam of the moonlight

He nevertheless could see “as far as the moon”

And this seeming paradox has a theological resonance

In our lives of faith our immediate vision is often obscured or blurred

But the light of Ascension – which we celebrate this week

Allows us to see “as far as the moon” and beyond

And today is one of those days as it is the first Sunday after Ascension

But making sense of Christ’s Ascension is not easy

To understand Ascension, in my view, you have to start first with Resurrection which interestingly, is discovered at the beginning of the day

As it says in Matthew’s Gospel, “the week was dawning” (Matt 28:1)

And we all know that feeling,

When we wake up in the morning and take a while to comprehend the reality of our surroundings

And there is little wonder on this particular morning

Because Jesus Christ, whom the disciples thought was dead is in fact alive

Rather than finding a body in a tomb they find it empty

As one French writer put it, he had “tipped over” into the transcendence of God

And the Risen Christ, as opposed to the earthly Christ, has now become the channel through which God goes on speaking to the world

The resurrection is like the light going on, giving us a way of seeing things anew

Our vision and understanding of the world has suddenly been dramatically extended

Beyond the temporal in front of our eyes and now to the transcendent in the far distance

And so to the Ascension

I must confess to finding Ascension difficult not least because, as the reading states, this morning

“As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9)

What are we to make of that?

One thing we do know is that Jesus goes from his physical form, albeit resurrected – which all could see – to the heavens where he could be seen no more

Not surprisingly, the disciples were left in wonder – as are we

However, this physical ascension has to be considered alongside Christ’s words where he tells his disciples

“I am with you always even unto the end of the age” (Matt)

This seems paradoxical – how can Christ be still “with” us yet also have ascended?

But if this seems strange, let me put it this way

Every day, people are constantly discovering and rediscovering Christ

A Christ who sets them free to view their lives and the world anew

Pu another way, discovering and re-discovering Christ allows us all to see “as far as the moon” and beyond

But this renewed vision is not just about seeing the world anew, but deepening our own faith at the same time

For the simple reason that the ascended Christ is no longer someone outside of us – but the power within us as well

And this has an immediate impact

First and foremost, our greater clarity of vision inevitably leads to the deepening of our own faithfulness to God’s

By way of example, this means accepting the fundamental dignity of all human beings

The Christian faith can have no room for the notion that the rights of some human beings overrule the reality of others

How could they?

There are no surplus people whose needs we can ignore

As Justin Welby said in The Times yesterday, it would be “nonsense” to say he should not be involved in politics

Out another way, “would you send Jesus to Rwanda”?

At the same time, this renewed vision is an immediate call to arms to defend the planet from the ravages of fossil fuel

Faithfulness to the human race brings with a faithfulness to the environment at the same time

Next time you look at a global issue such as social justice or climate action

Ask yourself the simple question, are you being faithful to God in the stance you have adopted?

Is your immediate view obscured or are you able to see so much further?

And so on this first Sunday after Ascension we should all be re-focussing our vision

Although we can no longer see the physical Jesus in front of us, we are now able to see so much further afield

And with this renewed sight we can now share God’s perspective on the world

Enabling us to see the world anew

And if we were cross examined about what we could see, whilst we might say with all honesty that we might not be able to see in front of us

The Ascended Christ now allows us all to see “all the way to the moon”, indeed, all the way to the heavens