A sermon preached online at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on Ascension Day 2021.
A few years ago I was asked into Rose Hill primary school to tell the Easter story to the children. It’s the kind of thing vicars do. At the end I asked for any questions and one of the children asked:
‘Where is Jesus now?’
We’ve just heard Saint Luke write that Jesus departed from his disciples and that:
‘while he was blessing them, Jesus withdrew from them
and was carried up into heaven.’
If that child from Rose Hill had been able to ask Saint Luke their question ‘Where is Jesus now?’ I think Luke would have answered – he’s now in heaven.
It’s a fitting climax to the Easter story – a great way to conclude the greatest story ever told. But it’s not the only way.
Each of the gospel writers tells the Easter story in their own unique way with different conclusions and different implications.
Take Matthew; at the end of his gospel the disciples go to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. The risen Christ is in their midst and the disciples worship him.
Earlier in Mathew’s gospel, Jesus had promised that when 2 or 3 meet together in his name, he would be there among them (18.20). The disciples do now meet again in Galilee, and as promised, he is with them. Matthew’s gospel ends with the risen Christ saying to the disciples:
‘And remember, I am with you always,
to the end of the age.’
Where is Jesus now? Jesus is present when the Church meets, when 2 or 3 gather in his name – that’s where Jesus is to be found, suggests Matthew in his gospel.
What about the first and last gospels to be written? How do Mark and John conclude?
Mark was the first to write a gospel, and in many ways Mark’s gospel leaves us on Easter day with more questions than answers.
The tomb is found by the women to be empty. But rather than rounding the story off, Mark tells how the women flee from the tomb so frightened that they say nothing to anyone.
As they flee the words of the angel ring in their ears:
‘He is going on ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see
him, just as he told you.’
In Mark’s gospel the risen Christ goes ahead of the disciples and leads them to Galilee.
Where is Jesus now?
Jesus is going on ahead – Mark’s answer.
Jesus is where Christians meet – Matthew’s answer.
Jesus is in heaven – Luke’s answer.
So what about the fourth and last gospel by Saint John? Where does he suggest that Jesus is now?
Saint John weaves together bits from all three of the other gospels. But perhaps the clearest answer Saint John gives is that Jesus is not just amongst his disciples, as Matthew suggests, but in them:
‘Abide in me, as I abide in you.’ (15.4)
It’s teaching we’ve been listening to over the last few weeks. That the Father and the Son through the Spirit make their dwelling place with each of us:
‘On that day,’ the risen Christ says, ‘you will know that I
am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.’ (14.20)
That is perhaps Saint John’s most characteristic answer to the question put by that child to me: where is Jesus now? He’s in you.
Of course I’ve been very impressionistic in looking at each gospel with that child’s question in mind.
But I think the answers that the four gospels give are suggestive of the different ways that we experience the risen Christ’s presence with us now.
With Saint John, we know the risen Christ as an inward truth. Here’s how an anonymous fifteenth century writer puts it:
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
not by any din of drums-
nor the vantage of airs-
nor by anything he wears.
Neither by his crown-
nor his gown.
For his presence known shall be
by the holy harmony
that his coming makes in you.
And with Saint Mark, the meaning of Easter is waiting to be discovered as we follow the risen Christ going ahead of us, calling, beckoning, leading us on through life.
And with Saint Matthew, we meet the risen Christ in the life of the Church. When we meet in his name we know he’s with us and hears our prayers.
But today’s feast of the Ascension, belongs largely to Saint Luke and the way that he answers that question: where is Jesus now? Christ is now in heaven.
Today our hearts shout: Alleluia!