(Homily for feast of the Ascension of the Lord, 2017)
“Tout ce qu’est le Christ, il l’est pour nous. Tout ce qui arrive à l’humanité du Christ, lui arrive pour nous” Soeur Moïsa
(Everything that is Christ is for us. Everything that happens to the humanity of Christ is for us).
If you’re looking for the Ascension,
you can find it in Manchester.
A long time ago,
I was a student at Manchester University.
On one Saturday afternoon in my first term,
I crossed Upper Cambridge Street and wondered into the Hulme estate. There I found it: the Church of the Ascension.
I knew the Ascension would look different to any Church I’d seen before. In fact, my heart sang when I first saw it: on the outside, a very un-pretty rectangular block surrounded by deck-access housing, but on the inside, the Ascension was full of light and art and welcome. I thought it was beautiful. It is beautiful. It had that special stillness you find in city churches. The altar was near the people, the seating arced around it and, of course, it smelt like heaven: incense.
Manchester’s Hulme was a very poor community that faced huge challenges. But it also had an amazingly vibrant culture of working class Mancunions, poets, musicians, students, and a large West Indian population. In a world that could be cruel and hard, the Church of the Ascension was a holy and healing space, a sacred place where anyone could go and they’d take you in and lift you up. On the feast of the Ascension, we had steel drums and goat curry.
The stories coming out of Manchester this week did not surprise me: the taxi drivers ferrying people around, for free; the hotels offering rooms for free; the help that flowed towards the hurt; and, of course, the story of Steve.
Steve was a homeless man living out on the streets. In the aftermath of the blast, Steve rushed to help. People saw him cradling those who were dying, and being there for anyone who needed him. One of the things he did was pull out nails from people’s arms and faces.
I was not surprised.
Whether people believe it or not, feel it or not, the Ever-Present Christ is simply there, always, rising up within us.
Before He ascended into heaven, the last promise Jesus gave to us was not, ‘life will be easy’. It was not, ‘you’ll never get sick, you’ll never get lost, hurt, broken, rejected or bereaved’. No. The one promise Jesus gave us before His Ascension was this: ‘I will always be with you, until the end of time’.
In all the tears and heartache of this world, I’ve just found that Ascension promise to be true: I am always with you.
Where there is compassion, there is Jesus. Where there is hope and humanity, there is Jesus. Where there are nail bombs, there is Jesus.
Right now, Manchester is a Christ-filled city.
I wonder who pulled the nails out of Jesus’ hands?
His own mother,
his female disciples,
and now, Steve.
Humanity pulls out the nails in God’s hands.
The Ascension hands of Jesus, reaching out over the whole world in blessing, are still scared, but those nails are gone. They are no more.
For all of us, they will be no more. Everything in Christ is for us.
The scars may remain: washed, blessed, kissed, anointed. But the nails, all of them, every single one of them, will be taken from you.
God pulls out the nails in our hands.
The Ascension. It’s not just that Christ is present with us, but that He shares everything that He has with us. He shares His suffering. He shares His cross. He shares His Resurrection. He shares His Ascension.
Everything that is Christ is for us. Today, Christ reveals your future: Ascension. Because He ascends, we ascend. The injured, the scared, the poor, the crucified, will be lifted , will be held, will be exulted, will be crowned.
In our deepest hearts, memory of this truth can never die. The crowds that gathered in Manchester said, ‘love is stronger than hate’. They can say it, because there’s something in this world that makes it true. It’s a promise sealed with tears, written in blood, made real through a body nailed, buried, but now risen, now ascended. It’s a living hope that God whispers into our hearts and dares us to believe.
Love wins because someone said: I am always with you, till the end of time.
The Ascension promise. You’ll find it in Hulme, in the Arena,
in Manchester and wherever you go.