The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Holy Communion      2nd June 2019
After the Ascension - Watching and Waiting
Jeremy Fletcher

Acts 16: 16-34

John 17: 20 – 26


I once attended a coronation. A few years ago I joined with leaders of the Viking world, in York Minster, for the Coronation of Erik Bloodaxe. Well, I didn’t really, because it was a re-enactment, but you wouldn’t dare say that to the members of the group who were doing it, and their swords and shields looked real enough to me.


As the ceremony progressed, and the audience suspended its disbelief and became a congregation, it was impossible not to be drawn in. The re-enactment became the thing itself, and, given that I will be nowhere near the coronation of our own King, whenever it happens, it gave me ample cause to reflect on the nature of earthly and heavenly power. In that sense the re-enactment did its work.


Some perfectly sane people spend their leisure time pretending they are in the Civil War, or at Agincourt or Brunanburgh, re-enacting the events which have shaped our present day. We do well not to be too snobbish about such things, because the Christian church does it all the time. The church’s year, for example, is one great re-enactment – or two actually. There is the cycle of Incarnation – the birth of Christ - from Advent through to Candlemas, and the paschal cycle, from Ash Wednesday through to Pentecost. We place ourselves in the stories, and find ourselves in an interesting few days right now. 


On Ascension Day we reflected on the ‘coronation’ of Christ, ascended into heaven. Christ’s command to his disciples was to wait in the City until they were clothed with power from on high, and in these days until Pentecost the Church prays for the outpouring of the Spirit, just as the disciples did. Such prayer is a feature of the collect for today: “leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us…” Prayers and readings at this time help us to imagine we are in that story, asking and praying for the promised Holy Spirit. 


It one sense it is good to pretend that the Spirit has not come yet, and add urgency to our prayers for the gift of the Spirit. As you’ll remember, the Church of England now calls this season “Thy Kingdom Come”, and invites us to pray with more urgency for the power of God to change our communities and friends, our nation and world. And yet in another sense it is absolutely ridiculous to pretend that we don’t have this gift already, strange to act as if we have to wait for Pentecost so that we can get on with the job


When we say “The Lord be with you” and respond “and also with you” we are saying that God is here, closer than close, greater than great, more loving than love, as my ordaining bishop used to say.  No waiting needed, no pretending that next week it will all be fine. We should be challenged now to ensure that we are open to the empowering of the Spirit of God.


There is another re-enactment today. In a moment Henry James Laurence Lee will be baptised. We are meant to remember the death and resurrection of Christ, where the one baptised goes into the depths of death before rising to the new life of faith. We will pray that Henry will be given the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. We don’t need to wait until next week for that to happen. As he is baptised remember your own baptism: the outward sign of the presence and power and promise of God in you. This is a special day for Henry, following his first birthday last week. For him we pray that every day will be a day to ask for the presence of the Spirit sent by the ascended and exalted Christ, celebrated in particular each Pentecost. We pray that for him every day will be the day to rejoice in the coronation of Christ, the gift of the Spirit, and his presence as a member of the family of God, the body of Christ, God’s church. 


Every Sunday we enact that life and power and hope as we gather at God’s table. It’s another re-enactment, remembering the Last Supper, the death of Christ, his body and blood given for us. We are indeed actors in this drama. We pray that Henry will know his place in all this. And we pray that, empowered by the life giving Spirit of God, we will lve, every day, to God’s glory. 


Amen. 

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