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'Points of view'

Easter 6 BCP

28 May 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

I love the way the Church often provides two bites at the cherry, in her liturgical provision. The Last Supper which is celebrated on Maundy Thursday, is given a second outing at Corpus et Sanguis Christi in a few weeks time. Good Friday is given another expression in September on the Feast of the Triumph of Holy Cross. The account of the Transfiguration of the Lord is an integral part of our Lenten observance, and yet, again, is given its own day in August. And, most recently of all (and therefore we have not yet caught up with it here at St. George's!) the wider Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, as (to my mind), another chance, at the end of the year, to reflect on the glorious mysteries of Ascentiontide.

A local priest in my Portsmouth days always adored this season, remarking that the Ascension is a feast which would have been enjoyed by Jesus himself - in contrast to the trauma and difficulties of birth in a manger, exile, and the agony of crucifixion and death…though the pain of birth or of death, have in common a moving on to new reality.

New realities always seem to be greeted with confusion. Just as the initial response to Jesus' resurrection was one of confusion, so also with his Ascension. There is the friendly rebuke of the angel: 'Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?'… 'get on with it…now you must stand on your own feet. Tell the good news to the whole world'. Having said this, maybe in our own day we might linger just a little longer, gazing up into heaven at Christ the King of the Universe, to try to gain a healthier/wider perspective on the affairs of the church and the world. After all, the promise of the Holy Spirit is given in order to help us to see things from a divine perspective - from the point of view of Jesus…from the viewpoint of origin and Creator - from the point of view of love. When trials and bitter suffering are visited upon us, the power of the Spirit enables us to see love's opportunity in their midst…even at the heart of death. The Holy Spirit is pledged to help us to see things from the point of view of Jesus.

We need more of this panoramic vista in a Church that is preoccupied with secondary issues. There has been a longstanding historic link between the Diocese of Chelmsford and the Province of Kenya. Sadly, a few days ago, the Archbishop of Kenya apparently withdrew contact and hospitality from the Bishop of Chelmsford, halfway through his pastoral visit with dozens of curates. It is alleged that this is simply on account of his patronage of a pressure group arguing for the inclusion of lesbian and gay Christians within the Church. I leave it to your judgement as to which position scandalises you…and which you might think to be the narrower viewpoint. The Holy Spirit is pledged to help us to see things from the point of view of Jesus.

I quite admire 'talking heads' and editorial writers who challenge and form points of view, even though good ones are few and far between. It is a worry that so many people who are in no position to pronounce, are called upon these days for instant comment and wisdom. I think I would be hopeless on a programme like 'Any Questions', and cringe when many Church leaders speak, but at the same time, a wise word in season is required in order for the divine viewpoint to be considered. I recall that Graham Leonard was, perhaps surprisingly, rather good at that part of his Episcopal responsibilities.

The Ascension reminds us of the scope of God - the height and depth and length and breadth of our loving infinite God, and, like all feasts in my view, reflects an aspect of the incarnation. Then we are told of Emmanuel - God with us, which now becomes Us with God, beyond time and space…and humanity clothed in divine glory. Advent speaks of the coming of God: 'Comfort ye my people' and the Ascensiontide promise today uses similar language as we learn that the Comforter will be sent. The Paraclete, upon whom we call for help (literally 'call in aid') as advocate and comforter is promised.

When in doubt and difficulty don't we call too, on close friends as paracletes? Personally, I am fortunate never having had to pay for counsel, whether spiritual or psychological and have close friends who have helped me through difficult times, and luckily I have never needed legal counsel. You'll be the first to hear if that ever came my way miraculously for free! I hope we seek the most reliable of support too - the Advocate and Comforter through whom we call upon the Father in prayer. But, part of the answer to our prayer for help, might well require us to become paracletes ourselves on behalf of those with no voice of their own, or for those with fragile voices, rather like the Bishop of Chelmsford has chosen to do.

St. Peter reminds us today that charity covers a multitude of sins, before urging Christ's followers to use hospitality one to another, without grudging. Blessed be the Paraclete, and our own paracletes. May they help us to see things from the point of view of Jesus.
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