Thursday, 2 June 2011

Forced to Faith

Today is the day when Christians celebrate the Ascension of Jesus to heaven. It probably brings with it more questions than answers, but that is so often the case when we consider the 'moments' of our faith story.

To my mind, the Ascension is the final movement in the Symphony of Easter, the epilogue in the film - the final chapter. It is the absolute conclusion and realisation of a path of prophecy, and also of the events precipitated by the raising of Lazarus, itself remembered two weeks before Easter on Passion Sunday. In that cycle, we have had a triumphal entry to a Holy City, deceit and betrayal, murder and desolation, miracles and doubting, uncertainty and new realities. And so here one Symphony ends ready for the next to begin, that of the birth and life of the Church. 

It is easy for us in twenty-first century internet underwritten enlightened life, with books and articles written in their millions, to take all this stuff on the chin. We know all of this because the Bible tells us so. We know how the story after Jesus will pan-out, for a couple of thousand years at least, because we have the benefit of hindsight. 

So consider the Apostles. Consider the Marys. They had no Bible. They had no benefit of hindsight. They had a great big Jesus-shaped hole. 

In mere weeks I will take on my first incumbency. I am not inexperienced to taking on new responsibilities, as I have done so before, but I remember the flavour of that experience. I will take on the spiritual leadership of one church community. Consider the Apostles. In a week's time (by our calendar), they will be taking on the Incumbency for the whole of Christendom - the building of a world-wide church. They didn't have the benefit of a theological education, the might and cash of Alpha, or even a Bible - they had a simple spoken mandate to act. They were forced to faith. 

The Feast of the Ascension is, to me, the first true moment where faith is lived out in the lives of ordinary people. This even tips the 'follow me' stuff, because at least the new disciples had a leader in the flesh at that point. Now they have no-one - just a resurrection to comes to terms with, a man whose teachings would reach into future millenia, and no resources at all except themselves. What faith; what results. We know that in the end, it would be a faith journey unto their own execution - and without that sacrifice on their part, well - the alternative is almost to terrible to contemplate. 

(The essence of an impromptu, unplanned sermon delivered earlier. I wanted to write it down before I forgot what I had said)


  1. Sorry, David, but I have to pick you up on the "they had no Bible" thing (which you said twice). What the apostles and earliest church didn't have was a New Testament. They did, however, have the Hebrew scriptures - Torah, prophets, Psalms - which Jesus had explained, interpreted and reframed for them, and which the NT writers then relied on to help them interpret and make sense of the life, death, resurrection and person of Jesus. Without these Hebrew scriptures such a task would have been impossible IMO.

  2. Cant't argue there, and I perhaps need to clarify my position ...

    Yes, there were scriptures, and they would have been privy to much of what was written. My point (poorly made perhaps) is that we have the Bible to hand, literally, in our age - the Disciples probably didn't have the scrolls on horse-back, and were only given access as dictated by rabbis. Also, if Jesus overturned the 'old order', there were as yet no notes on the 'new order'.

    Thanks for the comment and for picking my up on semantic sloppiness (and also for causing to think about what I really meant) - appreciated, always!

  3. You are right. It's highly unlikely that the apostles (including Paul) would have had the physical books. Most of it would have been in their heads. A similar position would have obtained for most Christians up until about 500 years ago when printing became a mature technology. Manuscripts are so expensive and time-consuming to produce!



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