Although we no longer have services on Wednesdays regularly, we will have services midweek on special dates. Ascension Day was just such a date. We met in the Cathedral at noon SLT instead of in the chapel. I took the opportunity to share something I had written some years ago. The full document is given for those who are interested in reading more. A trek in the mountains
The readings were Psalm 47, Daniel 7:9-14, Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-end.
It is a beautiful spring day and you are equipped with backpack and strong boots ready for a trek in the mountains. The paths winding out of the valley look very easy but you have been warned that things get trickier as you climb. So you have a guide with you as advised. You have also bought the guide book. It is full of tips on how to get the most out of your trek, things to avoid, the flora and fauna and the names of the various places you will get to. There are sections written by others who have made the trek before you, describing what they saw and how they felt. You wonder, as you read it in the valley, whether you will ever reach those high peaks they describe and see those views for yourself.
And so you set off full of energy. The path is wide and passes through flower dotted meadows. You take time to look around and drink it all in. The sky is a beautiful blue, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. The air smells fresh and clean. There is room for your guide to walk beside you on the path and as you walk you talk. So quickly he moves from being a stranger to someone with whom you have an easy relationship. You chat about anything and everything, nothing seems barred from this conversation, even your innermost hopes and fears.
After a while the path begins to climb into the foothills. It narrows and become less even underfoot. Your guide walks behind you, still talking to you. If you strike off on a wrong path he says: ‘This is the way,’ and puts you right. The harder walking makes you a little out of breath but it is a pleasant challenge. There is still time and energy left over to appreciate your surroundings. Your guide points out things of interest to you and you read extracts from the guide book at intervals.
Then comes the time when the path becomes very steep. There are loose stones underfoot and treading on them incorrectly risks a twisted ankle despite you boots. You have no choice but to keep your eyes fixed firmly on the ground so that you can place your feet carefully. Looking around is out of the question. Every now and again you hear your guide telling you to move to the right or the left. You don’t know why, as you have no overview of where you are heading, but you do as he says. Somehow he never seems to get out of breath, whereas the best you can do is reply ‘OK’ as you follow his instructions.
Finally you are gasping for breath, your heart is hammering in your chest and your calf muscles are burning. You know that you can go no further and you tell the guide so. He tells you not to sit down but to stand where you are for a while. You stand doubled over until you get your breath.
‘Let’s carry on, shall we?’ says the guide.
‘I’ll never do it, it’s too steep,’ you reply.
‘You can do it. Just take it step by step.’ he says.
Very doubtful of your ability you set off once more. All you can concentrate on is one step at a time. The effort of taking each step is enough to occupy your whole being; there is nothing left over for thinking or looking around. Finally, with much encouragement from your guide, you almost drag yourself the last few steps to the top of the rise and you sit down on the first available soft spot to recover.
After a short while your guide beckons you to join him. There behind him is a stream, full of melt water, rushing down the hill. ‘Drink’ he says and you do. Never has water tasted so refreshing! It is icy cold and revives you totally. You splash it over your face and feel so alive.
‘Come and look’ invites your guide. So you go to stand beside him. You take in the most wonderful view and you know the effort of that climb was worth it. There is so much to see that you could stand there all day. Soon your guide directs your gaze to the way you have just come. You look down the steep path you have just toiled up. You are amazed at just how steep it is – how did you manage that? The guide points out where he told you to go left or right as you climbed. From this point of view, those seemingly illogical twists and turns make perfect sense. Without them you would have been doomed to experience disaster. And then your guide directs your gaze upward. For the first time you can glance, far off and blue in the distance, the peak that you are heading for.
I wrote those words that you have just heard a few years ago as I began to reconnect with faith after almost abandoning it as a waste of time. A lot of extraordinary things happened to me in that period, including being given this story or meditation during one night when I don’t think I slept at all. There is more to the writing than that, but I think that’s enough for me to share for the moment to make my point.
I particularly wanted to share that on this Ascension Day. We are told that after Jesus had ascended into heaven, two men in white robes appeared and asked: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’ I suspect they needed to look up to heaven because there lay their hope and they didn’t want to let it go. This reminds me of the way that Peter wanted to keep Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration because the experience was so wonderful. We know the disciples returned to Jerusalem and worshipped with joy in the temple continually. I have no doubt they recalled the words in the book of Daniel that we have just heard, becoming aware that they were living in the time of the fulfillment of prophecy. After all the ups and downs of the weeks before, finally the disciples saw what Jesus had been preparing them for. Finally they saw Jesus as he was, the Son of Man who was coming into his own as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Life can be hard work, as we know it was after this for the followers of Jesus as they spread the word. Each of us has difficulties and challenges to cope with. Like the unknown trekker in the words I shared with you, sometimes “the effort of taking each step is enough to occupy your whole being.” But also like that trekker, and like the disciples, we need time to stop and look up. We need to see where we are heading, where our hope lies, because that way we receive the encouragement we need to keep going.
Today is a day to look up, to take our eyes off the ground and the parts of life that threaten to trip us up. Today is the day to dwell on Jesus as he really is and to remember that he promised never to leave us or forsake us. Today is the day to enjoy the vision of where we are going and to anticipate the view we will see when we get there.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor