Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17th May 2020

Acts 17.22-31; John 14.15-21


On Thursday, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension. My favourite image of Jesus ascending into heaven is this one from the roof of York Minster. In the middle you can see the soles of Jesus’s feet as he vanishes into the clouds, while all around the disciples are gazing upwards, their faces grave and their hands raised in wonder. It’s a picture that makes me smile, but at the same time it is very moving. It somehow captures the complicated mixture of feelings that we have when we say goodbye to somebody we love, knowing that it will be a long time before we see them again: those times when we run to the end of the road, waving madly, to catch a last glimpse of them as they disappear. In the days after the Ascension, as they wondered what on earth was going to happen next, I think the disciples would have turned again and again to the words that Jesus spoke to them on the night before he died, and in particular to those words from our Gospel reading today: ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth.’ That word 'orphaned', carries a powerful emotional force. It speaks of helplessness, vulnerability, and bereavement - feelings that those first disciples in Jerusalem would certainly have recognised and that may resonate with us, too, in these strange and unsettling times. But our reading from Acts gives us the other side of the picture. In his speech to the Athenians, Paul draws on their own poets to proclaim a great truth. 'We are God’s offspring. In him we live and move and have our being'. If we are the children of a living God, the maker and sustainer of the universe, then we are not, and never can be, orphans. It’s easy to forget that the stakes for Paul in Athens were very high. He had been accused of heresy, for which the punishment was death. Paul wasn’t one of the original disciples. He hadn’t witnessed Jesus’s life, death and resurrection at first hand. And yet he was so convinced of God’s deep, intimate, fatherly love for himself and all creation that he was willing to risk his life to share it. Not orphans, but offspring. I pray that we may know this wonderful promise as a reality in our lives this week and always, and that it may bring us hope, courage and peace. Amen

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