A busy month – and General Synod around the corner in July.
Having had a whole month of uninterrupted Eastertide, we now move towards the great feasts of Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, and Corpus Christi – not to mention The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Birthday of S. John the Baptist, and the feast of the holy apostles, Peter and Paul. This is also the season for ordinations – to the diaconate and to the priesthood. Having failed to include my old confirmation notes in the last two magazines, I will include the section dealing with the Sacrament of Orders somewhere in this edition. It is also the month of the Summer Fair!!!
Over and over again, I write about the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord and, over and over again, I note that very few of the congregation (about half) attend. I wish I understood this. People never fail to keep the Lord’s Birthday and Easter Day. For some reason, His Ascension gets overlooked. I realise that it is very hard for us to conceive of Our Lord ascending to the heavens. “And a cloud withdrew Him from their sight.” is a more measured description. The importance of the Ascension, however, lies in the fact that He has completed His task. The whole point of Our Lord coming among us was to open for us the gate of heaven. By taking on our flesh at the Annunciation; being born of Mary at Christmass; living among us, preaching and teaching; offering Himself on the Cross on Good Friday; rising on Easter Day and revealing Himself to the apostles and many disciples, He now takes our flesh into heaven through His flesh in His glorious Ascension. No Ascension – no eternal life for us. It is a package deal. Then comes the Gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and the Birth of the Church. (So many people say that the church is superfluous. Try reading The Acts of the Apostles without reference to the Church!
If you have access to an English Hymnal (or many other hymnals – or via the internet) then look up 143, “Hail the day that sees Him rise. Alleluya!” Here are two of the seven verses:
There the glorious triumph waits; Alleluya!
Lift your heads, eternal gates! Alleluya!
Christ hath vanquished death and sin; Alleluya!
Take the King of glory in. Alleluya
There we shall with thee remain, Alleluya!
Partners of thine endless reign; Alleluya!
There thy face unclouded see, Alleluya!
Find our heaven of heavens in thee. Alleluya!
In other words, Jesus is the heart of our eternal joy. Even though I love my dogs, Brian Sewell’s concept of heaven is somewhat limited. Waking to find oneself being washed by canines from a former life is not exactly what Our Lord has in mind. (I suppose that an atheist is going to have difficulty with heavenly concepts.) Being surrounded by family and friends is also a limiting of heaven. Whoever is with us in heaven is up to God. More importantly, it will be that vision of celestial divine Beauty which will take our breath away. I wonder how you imagine heaven to be. So much depends on experiences we have had in this life. For many it is a glorious sunset – or a sunrise. For others it is a favourite scene from a sci-fi film. (Something out of Spielberg, perhaps?) For me it is the vision of glory given in Ralph Vaughn Williams’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” – and particularly in the recording by Sir Adrian Boult. Equally powerful was a performance given by The Northern College of Music many years ago. Curious how an atheist/agnostic like Vaughn Williams couldn’t leave heavenly things alone. (He was, of course, the musical editor of The English Hymnal – and the son of a clergyman.)
One important think about heaven will be the end to worry and fretfulness. “You cannot now cherish a wish which ought not to be wished.” says the angel in Cardinal Newman’s “The Dream of Gerontius”. All that energy absorbed in contemplation of the future and its outcome will be replaced by an eternal NOW. Even the mass, which looks to its fulfillment in the heavenly banquet, will be no more. “And so, at length, when Sacraments shall cease,” as another hymn describes the heavenly experience.
Have a lovely June. May seems to be full of glory and beauty at the moment. Perhaps that is a glimpse of heaven?