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June 2011
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vicar A final meeting
By the Revd David Burgess

Very early this month – on Thursday 2nd June – we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, with Communion services at 10:00 am (at The Lee) and 7:30 pm (at Hawridge). The festival gives us time to consider a question – who exactly is it who was around and about in Palestine during the six weeks between the Resurrection and the Ascension?

Was it a resuscitated corpse, a free-floating spirit, or neither; in fact much more than either? It won’t surprise you that I’ve opted for the third of these choices.

The Gospels record Jesus’s actual, physical appearances to Mary Magdalene and other women, to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, to ten of the disciples without and then with Thomas, to seven of the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, to the eleven at an unnamed mountain in Galilee, where he gives them what we have come to call ‘The Great Commission’ and again at the Mount of Olives before his ascension. In the Epistles, Paul speaks of other appearances, including one witnessed by 500 people at once.

Jesus’s bodily resurrection is a pointer to the one promised for us at the end of time. God will raise us up in bodily form, but precisely how he’ll do it is up to him. Lest we think these particular bodies are what we’ll be stuck with for eternity (perish the thought!), the Scriptures are clear that Jesus was raised in bodily form. His body was of another order than his earthly frame.

Luke tells us that the disciples "wondered". This body was clearly the body of the Jesus they knew and loved, but it was somehow different. Real, yet mysterious; the same, yet new and different.

Paul wrestled with this in his letter to the Corinthians. He posed an answer that went along the lines of, “God will raise us up in bodily form, but they will be spiritual bodies.” They won’t be free-floating spirits (they’ll be bodies) and they won’t be lifeless resuscitated corpses (they will be spiritual). Beyond that, Paul doesn’t go and in fact can’t go. We reach the limits of language and understanding at this point.

It’s true that we need a real incarnation, death and resurrection to give integrity to the Christian faith. But we go beyond that, to Ascension Day, to the present day, and on into eternity itself.

I’ve mentioned before the wonderfully-named 19th century American preacher William Sloane Coffin. More important than his name, though, are the equally memorable words he wrote: “I do not know what I will meet beyond the grave, but I do know whom I will meet.”

How ready are you for that meeting?
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