The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Holy Communion Online      21st May 2020
The Ascension does not need a blue plaque
Jeremy Fletcher

Ascension Day

Living where I do, and walking around far more, as I do in these days of lock down, blue plaques have become a part of my life. Round here they are not just blue: there are back and brown ones too, and the one for Charles De Gaulle is beautifully picked out in gold. They all do the same thing. “Some time ago”, they say, “someone amazing lived here, so what happened here was probably amazing too.” They imply that, because the inhabitant was of such significance, what happened there will have been significant and life changing. We can only wonder what the morning cuppa was like for the eminent Egyptologist, the world leading statistician, the renowned artist, the world famous contralto, the actor and the horn player, all of whom are commemorated very close to here. 
There is an end date on each plaque. The amazing things stopped, the next inhabitants came, it all got a bit more mundane. “What times they were”, says the plaque. Will we see their like again?” On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem there’s a stone slab which is supposed to have the footprints of Jesus, left as he took off into the heavens and was taken from the sight of the disciples in a cloud. Some people get more than one blue plaque, and all across the Holy Land are sites commemorating where Jesus was, did something, died, was raised, and ascended.  But they are no blue plaque, moving and profound as they are. 
The ascension is an end, but not the kind of end like the date on a grave or memorial. The disciples have encountered the risen Jesus for forty days, and just about got used to the new thing the world had become. I’m told it takes six week to develop a habit, to get used to something, and just as they reach that point, Jesus goes, in such a way that they know he will never come back. He is enfolded in God, in the cloud which had always been a sign of God’s actual presence. His time on earth in physical form had ended. Time to be sad, to mark the spot, to commemorate, to be sad, to remember. 
Except that they return to Jerusalem with joy and they worship. What they have learned from Jesus is that this is not the end of everything, but the beginning of something new.  Jesus has spent his time with them promising that his resurrection is for ever, that it is eternal and universal, that it cannot be undone. He has promised them that the power at work in him, and only fleetingly and unpredictably available to humanity before Christ came – the Holy Spirit – will be released to everybody who opens themselves to Christ by faith. Wait, he says, and you will receive. And his words before his death become a little more accessible. After I am gone I will send the Holy Spirit, to be alongside you just like I was, and to be in you, for ever.
In baptism we too have died and been raised. Filled with the promised Holy Spirit we live the new life of the Kingdom of Heaven. Far from commemorating a past life we live the new life of Christ. We are a living, breathing pointer to and carrier of the love and power and forgiveness and healing of the God of grace and power. The Ascension does not mark the abdication of God from human life, but the next stage in God’s dwelling with humanity and humanity’s dwelling with God – of God in us and us in God. Christ, confined to one place in his life on earth after the resurrection, is now unlimited, present everywhere, for all of us.
The church, in scattered from yet united in Christ, in isolated form yet bound together by the Spirit, says that God is utterly and completely part of this world, and that humanity, creating, is utterly and completely part of God. That life is active and dynamic and changing. It takes place in times of devastation and times of joy, in times of sadness and hope. We still strain and wait and desire the fulfilment of all this. For now God is with is through the promised Holy Spirit, and we are with God in the  presence of the risen human Jesus at God’s right hand. 
May we on earth be a people, a church, a body expectant that the fullness of all this will be revealed, and here and now worshipping the risen and glorified Lord, now, and until the Kingdom comes. Amen.

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