REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 15: Looking up so we don’t trip up down here!
I often repeat to myself a phrase dad used to say to me, “lift up your feet and your body will go with you!” It was good advice for a boy who sometimes dragged his feet! With Ascension Day approaching, it is good advice for us when we feel like dragging our feet through life, to look upwards. I have been asked, to reflect upon our Lord’s ascension, His giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the doctrine of the Trinity, to show how they might encourage us through the pandemic. As I have cogitated on these themes I have warmed to the challenge. It has made me even more grateful for my mentors in the Faith, who always saw Christian doctrine as something to instruct our minds, warm our hearts by driving us to apply biblical truths in every aspect of our lives.
Those who preached in our parish church and who taught us in Sunday school and youth group were exemplars of the truth that sound theology applied, would always be good pastoral care and good for us. I hope that these reflections (over the next three weeks) on the two historical events, our Lord’s bodily ascension and gift of the Holy Spirit, along with the wonderful doctrine of the Trinity, might serve as a tribute to them and prove a help to us all.
As I seek to apply the truth of our Lord’s ascension, I’m reminded of the prayer for Ascension Day (AAPB following BCP): Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we believe your only begotten Son to have ascended in to Heaven, may we also in heart and mind there ascend, and with Him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen
Here are some ways that this event, with its meeting of earth and heaven, might encourage us:
- The philosopher Plato opined that “never can man and God meet”. George Whitfield with the benefit of living this side of Jesus, saw far more than Plato could ever have hoped when he said, “Jesus was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again”. This happy togetherness begun at Jesus birth, made ours at our new birth, is experienced when we pray and in the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
- That Jesus ascended bodily, as Dr Luke teaches us (Luke 24:50-53 7 Acts 1:9-11), means that He remains, in Heaven, the one person, fully God and fully man. Article 4 puts it succinctly, establishing this, along with Jesus’s bodily resurrection as Anglican teaching: Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until He return to judge all Men at the last day.
- This is taught by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5: For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. Only one who is fully God and perfect man could deal with our sin. This Jesus did willingly (2:6 reminds us that he gave himself as a ransom for all men) and continues to do as our mediator. We can come before God’s throne with confidence, because the one who came from God, bridged the gap between our sinfulness and his holiness. After standing in for us on the Cross, extinguishing the impossible debt of God’s wrath on our behalf (Matthew 26:39; 27:45-46, John 19:30, 1 John 2:2), He remains seated at God’s right hand as our gracious mediator, advocate (1 John 2:2), intercessor (Romans 8:34), forerunner (Heb 6:20) and sympathetic high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Our confidence in coming to Him with our fears, concerns, sins and temptations is bound up with His incarnation, atonement and ascension.
- The Hebrews passages (4:14-16 and 2:18) are a special help to us at this time (as with any personal, family or national crisis). By reminding us of his humanity and temptations, we are confident that he understands us as we pour out our hearts to Him. As we do we realise that we are never alone and fully understood when we open our hearts to him in prayer. He deals with us gracefully, helping us in our time of need (4:16).
- This means that the difficulties we experience as Christians are fully understood by our Saviour since He already experienced them when He dwelt among us. Is it anxiety for the intransigence of unbelieving friends, misunderstanding of family and friends because we are believers, concerns for the welfare of the hungry, the plight of persecuted brothers and sisters, the grief we face at the death of loved ones, or the weariness of standing firm in a sinful world? These He experienced, to an even greater depth, since He never succumbed to the temptation to sin. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:16).
- All this means there is no need to drag our feet but opportunity to find 20/20 vision as we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:1-3). Having written us into the script of God’s unfolding perfect plan, of which this pandemic is also playing its part, He can be counted upon to strengthen our weak knees and help us to walk in his level paths (12:12-13). More than that, run the race with perseverance, knowing that He will meet us in prayer at every turn and greet us when we arrive.
Peter Brain 19th May, 2020