A sermon preached by Andrew McKearney on Ascension Day 2023
The story of the Ascension is full of rich symbolism – a cloud, a mountain, a throne, a crown, sitting at the right hand – it is full of symbolism. It’s been the mountain that has caught my attention particularly this year.
Some of the most significant moments in the Bible happen on mountains. Our first reading tonight told of God showing Moses the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, only for Moses to die before reaching it himself.
You’ll be able to think of other important mountains in the Old Testament – Mount Sinai, where Moses received the 10 commandments and Mount Carmel, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, to name just two.
Mountains have significance too in the gospels – there’s the Sermon on the Mount and the Mount of Transfiguration. But the two mountains in particular that I want to think about, book end Matthew’s gospel.
Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there’s the story of the temptations in the wilderness which we read about at the beginning of Lent, and how on the third attempt the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world which he promises to give to Jesus if he will fall down and worship him.
Then right at the end of Jesus’ ministry, we heard tonight about the 11 disciples going to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them where they fall down and worship him.
Whether Matthew deliberately book ended Jesus’ ministry with two mountains I can’t say, but the contrasts between the two are striking.
On the first mountain you’ll recall that Jesus was alone, he had no disciples with him, and the devil offered him the entire world in return for his worship.
Today at the end of the Easter season, Jesus is no longer alone, but surrounded by a community of faith – his 11 disciples. Authority is now given to Jesus, not by the devil but by God the Father. True worship is freely offered by the disciples to the risen Christ, rather than the false worship demanded by the devil on the first mountain.
Over the last few months since the beginning of Lent, we’ve journeyed spiritually, from the first mountain to this second mountain.
Here we’re offered a glimpse of our calling as a church: a place where community can be enjoyed, worship freely offered, hearts full of praise and gratitude, and Christ’s authority acknowledged.
And we’re given the commission to go and make disciples of all nations, to teach and baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As I conclude my preaching ministry among you, I want to leave you with that vision of the church’s calling. Something of that vision is what we’ve been working towards throughout my, and every ministry that’s ever been exercised here down the centuries.
But most of all I want to leave you with Christ’s assurance given to us on that second mountain and with which Matthew concludes his gospel.
Christ’s assurance is so precious:
‘Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’