Ascension Day and Worship

Two years ago my husband, my daughter and I climbed Skiddaw not far from where we were staying in Keswick. I hadn’t climbed a mountain for a long time, but it looked easy …from a distance.

I remember coming down and saying to Bob, “It’s such a shame, isn’t it to think that I’ll never ever climb a mountain again”

Bob was puzzled, “Why not?”he asked.

“Because my knee joints are killing me, and I couldn’t get my breath on the way up.” It was the first time I realized that I was getting old!

When I was younger though, I remember racing up mountains with my cousins, to see who could get there first. I remember too my very first view from the top of a mountain, I wonder if you can? In fact I’m willing to bet that we can all remember the name of the very first mountain we climbed.

To look at the world for the first time from a different perspective, takes your breath away, and fills you with a sense of awe and wonder.

It is said that many people feel nearer to God up a mountain than in a church.

So consider then what it was like for the disciples to be on Mount Olivet, which incidentally is a similar height to Skiddaw, and to be there with Jesus for the last time before he was taken away from their sight. For he was to them their Risen Lord, who had appeared many times to his disciples, and instructed them, in the period of forty days since his Resurrection.

But here he was with them, and they were listening to what seemed to be his final message to them, which was this:-

“ You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

As they watched he rose up bodily, until hidden by a cloud, the kind of cloud which envelops mountains.

And he ascended into heaven. Ascension Day is the day of Christ the king, the day we remember that Jesus ascended to a throne and where he sits even now at the right hand of God. . .now King of kings, Lord of lords.

Just try to imagine how they must have been feeling at that very moment. Perhaps words cannot describe their profound sense of wonderment, which was probably very much akin to what children experience when they have their first mountain top experience- only magnified a thousand times.

Then two men in white appeared to the disciples and little wonder they said to them, “Men of Galilee why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

It must have seemed as though they wanted to remain there, in an attitude of worship and wonder, and not return to reality.

Sometimes in worship we find ourselves caught up like that. A feeling comes over us and we want to hold that moment forever.

We can probably all recall some experience or some place which has had a profound impact upon us, so much so that we found it hard moving on from there.Or we spend our lives trying to recapture the moment.

Worship can make us feel that way if we approach God with the right attitude.

The main Greek word translated as ‘worship’ is proskuneo and it means to step forward to kiss the hand or pay homage.

The Hebrew words for worship mean to bow down; they also carry in their meaning the thought of a relationship between a dog and his master; that of adoring love.

What worship is not, is merely singing songs or praying prayers or reading scripture.

If we come to worship to receive rather than give, we will find ourselves going away empty, but if we come to give, we find ourselves receiving so much more.

The Bible says ‘Give and it will be given to you. A good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap.'

It is a good thing for us to be caught up in worship. The quality of our singing improves without us realising it, our prayers begin to mean something as we realise that this is a two way relationship, and God is really touching our lives and meeting our needs. The reading of scripture begins to fill us with a sense of anticipation, as we begin to expect that God may have a word for us, for our own particular situation.

But we must bear in mind, that God moves us on. When our worship is ended we hear the words, “Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord!”

The ancient words for this were ‘Ita missa est’ in other words “Now get out and do!”

Rather like the angel’s words ”Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” We must be careful not to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.

The angels were urging the disciples to be on their way, rather like schoolteachers reminding their children that they should not still be in the classroom when the bell has sounded for their morning break. “Go on get out!”

Remember that Jesus’ last speech to them, had been about sending his disciples on their way to serve God, to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, and to prepare themselves for the coming of his Spirit.

A man called Charles Slattery once said, “Mission is the church in love with the whole world.” This is Jesus command to us too.

This is why we so much need those mountain-top experiences of worship, to give us the love and strength and the confidence to go out and be Christ for others.