Tomorrow is Ascension Day; 40 days after Easter and the day that Jesus ascended back to heaven. Different denominations of the Christian church have developed different traditions for celebrating Ascension. Many will observe a dawn service of prayer and worship, and indeed in the Orthodox church that will have followed an all-night vigil.
There is a paradox at play in the Ascension. Jesus departs physically, but there is no mourning this time. He is no longer physically present on Earth, but this is not a second death. In this leaving there is also an arriving. The 40 days so far of Easter have revealed a resurrected Christ. An ever-present Christ; Jesus more alive in body and Spirit than can possibly be imagined. And so, in his return to heaven, in the full-blown mystery of that ascension, there is also total understanding. There is new meaning to that phrase from the empty tomb, “he is not here… he is risen”. At Ascension we might re-phrase it as “he is not here… he is everywhere”.
At dawn the world wakes up. The sun rises, the birds sing. The air seems to carry noise in a different way. There is a different consciousness to being alive. There is a sense of unfolding joy.
Tomorrow we will celebrate Ascension outside Thorncombe Church at 6am with a Celtic themed Communion service. All are welcome! It will take about 30 minutes. There will also be an online Zoom service in the evening at 7:30pm; see below for more details.
Here is a poem from R S Thomas which really speaks into the ever-presence of Jesus in the world all around us.
Suddenly after long silence
he has become voluble.
He addresses me from a myriad
directions with the fluency
of water, the articulateness
of green leaves; and in the genes,
too, the components
of my existence. The rock,
so long speechless, is the library
of his poetry. He sings to me
in the chain-saw, writes
with the surgeon’s hand
on the skin’s parchment messages
of healing. The weather
is his mind’s turbine
driving the earth’s bulk round
and around on its remedial
journey. I have no need
to despair; as at
some second Pentecost
of a Gentile, I listen to the things
round me: weeds, stones, instruments,
the machine itself, all
speaking to me in the vernacular
of the purposes of One who is.
ASCENSION TO PENTECOST
The 10 days of Ascension to Pentecost (23 May) mark the final 10 days of the Easter Season, culminating in the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It is often observed as a period of dedicated prayer, and in recent years many churches have followed the Thy Kingdom Come initiative during that time.
For Thy Kingdom Come material this year, the Church of England has put together videos for each day. Please see this link: https://www.thykingdomcome.global/videos. You will also find material available on the Deanery Facebook page and here; https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/news/thy-kingdom-come-2021.php
As you dedicate this period to prayer, I would ask that you particularly listen to where God is moving you in your faith and collectively as churches and as a Benefice. You might like to engage with the Our3Words challenge on this link.
May 17th sees the next step up in the recovery plan from COVID restrictions. It means that we will be able to meet as two households indoors and have gatherings of up to 30 privately outside. With respect to churches it means that funerals will have their attendance ‘cap’ removed and instead we can host people up to a safe capacity for the church, though still with 2m social distancing. Wedding limits are 30, and we are expecting that to rise on June 21st.
The vast majority of the most vulnerable people are now vaccinated. Whilst vaccinations do not provide complete immunity, evidence appears to show that that program is being hugely successful in not only protected the vaccinated, but also greatly reducing onward transmission. Numbers of infections and, thankfully, deaths are now very low in the South Somerset area, with just 11 cases and no deaths reported last week, which is roughly half the national average.
Through the churchwardens I have therefore asked all the churches to consider being generally open in the daytime from May 17th provided that there are clear measures in place for visitors to sanitise, register arrival, and know where it is safe to sit.
Thursday 13 May – Ascension Day Dawn service of Holy Communion – 6am outside St Mary’s Thorncombe – ALL welcome.
Sunday 16th May:
10am at St John’s, Tatworth – Holy Communion; Rev’d Terri
10am at St Mary’s, Thorncombe – Holy Communion; Rev’d Philip
10am at St Stephen’s, Winsham – Morning Worship; Lay team.
Wednesday 19th May – 11am Midweek service of Holy Communion at St John’s with APCM.
Sunday 23rd May (Pentecost Sunday):
10am Benefice Service at St John’s, Tatworth. A creative outdoor service for all. This will be a relaxed service which will include Communion, centred on fellowship and joy. Please come with your own refreshments and morning snacks! We will put out some chairs and tables, but do please bring your own picnic rugs and chairs of you can. We will have hot water available to make tea and coffee and some disposable cups, but please do bring your own mugs for hot drinks if you can.
Thursday 13 May – 7:30pm Ascension Day Zoom service. We can’t do incense over the internet, but we can do hymns, readings and breaking of bread. Do join us at 7:30pm!
Meeting ID: 851 5624 4352
Thursday 20th May – 7:30pm TEZ. Reflective prayer in the period of Ascension to Pentecost.
ANNUAL PAROCHIAL CHURCH MEETINGS (APCM)
The APCM’s in the Benefice are on the following dates and times:
19th May: 11am St John’s Tatworth. 2pm St Stephen’s Winsham
20th May: 11am St Mary’s Thorncombe.
26th May: 11am St Mary Magdalene’s Cricket Malherbie.
27th May: 11am St Michael’s Chaffcombe
Please see notices at each church for details of elections being held at those meetings.
THANK YOU TO BISHOP PETER
We give thanks for the ministry of Bishop Peter Hancock during his episcopy amongst us. He leaves us at Pentecost, and I know will be missed by many. We wish him well in his new horizons and pray for his continued recovery. There is a special farewell service at 3pm on 22nd May, which can be accessed online through the Bath and Wells website or their Facebook page. We have made a donation from the Benefice towards a gift for +Peter.
We pray for those we know who are sick, and those we don’t know, including those we are asked to pray by name for:
Bishop Peter Hancock; Jan Knott; Hannah Knott; Rob Allen; Lynne and Bruce Applegarth; Phyllis Baker; Margaret Bandy; Sue Bennett; Sue Cheese; Terry Conway; Nick Frankau; David Goodwill; Mike Heywood; Joy Howard; Ann Jarvis; Frank & Celia Long; Peter McHugh; Diana Rowlands; Ann Ricketts; Jim Tucker; Rosemary Walley; Rosemary Walton; Vivien Wheaton; Alan Wills, Anna Woodward; Pamala Young; Milly granddaughter of Jane & Alan Rudkin; Gillian Muggeridge; Chris Gould; Brian Griffiths; Peter Hathway; Dorothy Down; Max Woehrle; Michael Mutch; Kelvin Yendell; Winnie Barge; Izzie Luty-Wells; Tracy; Mary Butler.
We remember all those whom we love but see no longer, and pray for all those bereaved. We remember June Ball, whose funeral will be in Thorncombe on 18 May.
Please also pray for the following couples as they prepare for marriage in the next 3 months:
Charlotte Down & Nick Hawker
Lindsay Blackshaw & James Spurdle
Ashleigh Chislett & Keiren Pope
Julie Hampshire & Chris Bingley
Thomas Palmer & Lisa Bicknell
SCRIPTURE FOR THE WEEK
Acts 1:1-11 (NIV) Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
A Prayer for Ascension (from Thy Kingdom Come):
your ascended son has sent us into the world
to preach the good news of your kingdom:
inspire us with your Spirit
and fill our hearts with the fire of your love,
that all who hear your word
may be drawn to you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord