Thursday 13 May 2021: Ascension Day
Everything is completed in Christ
Acts 1.1-11; Ephesians 1.17-23; Mark 16.15-20
Context: a parish congregation, mixed both socially and culturally
Aim: to help the congregation to achieve a fuller appreciation of the presence of Christ calling all of us to deep inner freedom
Tom is an Irish traveller who told me that he had been a ‘bad lad’ and that’s why he’d found himself in the prison where our conversation was taking place. He is serving a sentence for aggravated burglary. During a robbery, he had hurt someone badly and was serving eight years. I felt a deep sense of guilt exuding from him. He kept pleading with me that he wasn’t a violent person but had let himself down and, more than that, let his family down.
IN A WORLD OF GUILT AND SHAME
As he spoke, I felt Tom was filled with shame. He hated himself for who he was and because of that, anger lurked just under the surface. Suddenly he asked me, ‘Why do you come in here?’ I didn’t want to say, tritely, that we had come to preach the Gospel. So, I picked up on that sense of shame and said, ‘Tom I’ve sensed that there’s a lot of shame going on within you and I don’t want you to feel that.’ His eyes filled up. Then HE said to me very politely, ‘That’s hard to hear you say, here, where shame and shaming are the order of the day.’
Psychologists tell us that we are either guilt-based or shame-based people. Deep within ourselves, we carry the burden of not being good enough, living our lives feeling unnecessarily guilty.
However deeper than a sense of guilt can be a profound sense of shame about who we are. This has nothing to do with the things we have done. It Is almost a given. We live life hating ourselves and this strips away our dignity. I think shame, and our desperate attempt to cover it up, is probably the cause of so much of the pain and brokenness in the world. Shame is an evil that should never be allowed to have power over us because it denigrates us and stops us believing that God has created us as something wonderful.
SEEING THE HOPE GOD’S CALL HOLDS FOR US
In our second reading the author of Ephesians, who may have been Paul or one of his followers, invites us to reflect on what Christ has done for us. The author prays that we be given the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation so that we might see who we are in God, what God wants for us and how amazing God is. I guess in other words the author hopes that glimpsing God will enable us to fall in love with God and to know God’s power freeing us from our shame and our guilt.
To help us realise what God can do the author re-tells the Christian story in a beautifully poetic way. The greatness of God’s power is shown when God raised Jesus from among the dead and seated him at God’s right side in heaven. There Christ reigns over all the cosmic forces and has a name exalted above all others. God has placed all things in Christ’s control and has made him the head of the church, which, as his body completes his being; he it is who fills all that exists, the whole cosmos. That’s another way of telling us the story we heard in the Acts of the Apostles that all things are completed in Christ.
DARING TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST’S VICTORY
I guess the challenge is ultimately whether we believe that in Christ the victory has been won over shame and guilt. Can we dare to rejoice in the gift of our humanity? Are we willing to believe that every darkness we have to face has already been defeated because of the goodness of God? I would encourage you take time each day to open your hearts to this God who, in the story of Christ, has poured out eternal love on the world and wants to pour that love out on you freeing you from guilt and shame. Then live your life in the freedom that brings.
It was Gandhi who said, ‘I would believe in your Christ if his followers looked as though they did.’ For the sake of the world as well as for ourselves lets believe in this Christ in whom everything is brought to completion. Let’s experience him in our hearts and share that good news with the world.
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