Sunday after Ascension

Fr Paul’s Sermon.

How are we to celebrate the Kingship of Christ (which is what the Ascension is all about) in the face of the Manchester bombing? If God is both good and all-powerful, why did he not stop it? Do we, as Christians, have any answers to give, any explanations or excuses?

This is hardly a new question. This latest atrocity is only the latest of many such atrocities, both in recent years, and in human history. It is not even the greatest, just the most recent and immediate, the one that prompts us to ask the same old question: where is God in all this? How can we believe in him?

I have no answer to this, and no more does anyone else. It is the same old question, the question the ancient Israelites asked, in the face of oppression and slavery; it is (dare one say) the question Mary was tempted to ask, as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched her son die in agony. The Cross is the only answer we have: God has put himself among the victims, the ones who suffer, rather than with the ones who cause the suffering.

The Bible starts with a good creation, but quickly moves to its corruption. In the old story, this corruption is put down to an Enemy, literally a “snake in the grass”, a tempter who denies God’s goodness, and mocks human trust in him. “Do your own thing, be your own God.” It is unfashionable today to believe in Satan, but our Lord warned us against him. Satan is the spirit of untruth, of lies; the spirit of hatred and anger; of the lust for power and domination over others. He is very real indeed.

In today’s Epistle, St Peter told the Christians of his own time not to be surprised at the “fiery ordeal” they faced. It put them in the same situation as Christ himself. The Devil prowls around seeking to devour us. In current events, we see how he works. He inspires young men (or women) with anger and resentment over injustices, real or imagined, done to themselves or to the community with which they identify. He persuades them that it is their duty, on behalf of God himself, to smite the unbeliever, the sinner, and all who belong to him. He inspires them to sacrifice their own lives in order to destroy. He takes from their heart all pity for their victims; he makes them forget the most fundamental tenet of their religion, that the true God is compassionate and merciful.

And by so doing, he hopes to stir up further hatred and anger, to provoke the victims to anger and thoughts of vengeance, to fill the world with blood and misery. Thus Satan will destroy the good world God has made, and prove to himself that he is God’s equal.

But he is not God’s equal. Good is stronger than evil, truth than lies, love than hatred: and we must believe it. We must not give way to despair, we must not give in to Satan’s strategy. The cross leads to the resurrection, to the triumph of life over death. The Cross is the glorification of Christ, of which he speaks in today’s Gospel. The Ascension which we celebrate is not the commemoration of Jesus’s departure from the world, but of his enthronement as Lord and King of this world. Christ conquers! Christ rules! Whatever the appearances, whatever the temptations to doubt, Christ reigns over all. Long live Christ our King!