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The United Benefice of Withington, Sevenhampton with Charlton Abbots, Hawling, Whittington, Dowdeswell and Andoversford, Shipton and Cold Salperton

This month's letter from the clergy

Ascension Day

Dear friends,

On Thursday, May 10th the Christians across the world celebrate Ascension Day. We shall be holding our own Benefice service at the Church at Shipton Solers which is featured on the front cover this month. This Church is officially ‘closed’ and in the care of the Churches Historic Trust, but we are allowed to hold an annual service there. Of all the church services that fall mid-week, this is usually the best attended. Partly because people do enjoy worshipping in this delightful building. This year’s service will be particularly special as we are welcoming our Archdeacon, the Ven. Phil Andrew, to be our preacher - this will be the first time he has preached in our Benefice.

But what is Ascension Day all about? It comes 40 days after Easter and marks the occasion when Jesus left his disciples to return to his Father. The fact that the resurrection appearances of Jesus came to a definite end so soon is one of the signs that the resurrection was not a merely psychological experience by the disciples. Had it been ‘all in the mind’ then the ‘appearances’ almost certainly would have gone on a lot longer. But there was a deeper dimension as well. If the disciples depended on a physically present Jesus then that was going to be problematic as a body cannot be everywhere at once. Jesus once said that he had to leave so that his Holy Spirit could come. This would mean that all Christians could experience the presence of the Spirit of Jesus, wherever they were. And we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost just 10 days after Ascension.

This does not mean that Jesus no longer has a physical body. This is made clear by Article 4 of the 39 Articles of Religion which are found in the Book of Common Prayer. The re-creation of Jesus’ body was an anticipation of the renewal of the whole of creation which will happen at Jesus’ return. As the angels assured the disciples when Jesus ascended, he would return to complete his work. Come and share with us this year as we celebrate the Ascension.