Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, one of the Church's major festivals.
We also see the beginning of Thy Kingdom Come, a worldwide season of prayer lasting the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost. The Church of England has its own resources, which can be found here. As Christians all around the world (from 172 countries in 2019) participate, there are resources from other traditions too, which can be found here.
One of the resources, from the Roman Catholic Church, is called 'Journeying with Mary'. It struck me that we often think of Mary at Christmas, when Jesus - God incarnate - was born and during Holy Week and particularly on Good Friday, when she watched her son die. I was struck that I've not really associated her with the Ascension before.
During our Eucharist later today - do join us at 5:00pm - we will hear two readings from the first chapter of Acts. Although at different times in the service, the two readings are from consecutive verses: the first, verses 1-11, and the second, verses 12-14. The first gives the account of Jesus' ascension in the sight of his disciples. The second tells us that, after this, they returned to Jerusalem, to the room where they were staying and were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus... (Acts 1:14). As we move towards Chapter 2 and the Day of Pentecost, there is no reason to believe that Mary did not remain with them in the place where they were staying.
In St John's, we do of course, have the two murals by Hans Feibusch (find out more about Feibusch on our Festival website here and here) - one of the Nativity and one of the Crucifixion. As I mentioned earlier, these are two events that it seems we often associate Mary with. Looking at the murals, I am reminded how physical, how bodily or incarnational these are. Mary gave birth to Jesus, Jesus was born - God and yet a (human) baby. Jesus died, in agony on the cross, with his mother standing there. And then we have the ascension, perhaps one of the most transcendent events in Jesus' earthly ministry and - though not a direct witness - Mary was there, in the place where the disciples were staying. She remained with them during that wait for Pentecost, when the wind and the flames rushed through the room.
It's not too much of a stretch, I think to move to a reimagining of what Mary's role as the God-bearer (or Theotokos) is. Mary bore Jesus as he entered the world and she endured the agony of watching him die, seeing death bear him out of the world (of course, she did not know then that the resurrection would come) - but her God-bearing was not only physical and bodily. On this, the Feast of the Ascension, we also find her 'constantly devoting herself to prayer', bearing witness among the disciples, waiting for the Day of Pentecost to come. Our God-bearing, our bearing witness and even being incarnational is not only physical either.
Of course, our physicality, our bodies, are important but they are not the "full story" when it comes to our faith and living it out. What can we do in our rooms, in the places where we are staying, to bear witness? As we approach the Day of Pentecost, how will we devote ourselves to prayer (you might like to join us for Morning Prayer)?
While we wait for the Day of Pentecost - as the apostles and Mary did - united with Christians throughout the world, let us pray, in word and act, as Jesus taught us - Thy Kingdom Come.
In whatever you do today, take care.
21 May 2020