Ascension Thoughts

 

I’m sure that all of us can immediately reel off a long list of the negative effects of the global Pandemic, but as with so many things, while we would never choose it, there are some positive effects also.  What is ‘positive’ and what is ‘negative’ is of course very subjective, and what might be negative for you could be positive for me.  For example, you not being able to fly to Spain on holiday is clearly negative for you, but could be seen as positive by me in reducing pollution from aircraft emissions.

 

One of the positive effects of the Pandemic from my perception is that is has sharply reminded me of the place of the human race within the created order.  Very arrogantly and naively, before this Covid Season, I believed that such plagues were confined to history, and I never dreamt that such a thing was possible in our day and age.  No doubt, such arrogance and naiveness were a product of our age, an assumption held not only by myself but by the vast majority of people.

 

Humanity was perceived to have developed beyond such primitive afflictions, and the skill and ability of our scientist and physicians afforded protection against the malevolent forces of nature.  The natural world was subject to devastating diseases, things like myxomatosis among rabbits and ash dieback in trees, and while we continue to battle with diseases like cancer, surely we were protected from the more contagious and indiscriminate diseases of years gone by.  We joined in the words of the Psalmist:

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By thy favor, O Lord,
    thou hadst established me as a strong mountain
” (Psalm 30. 6&7a)

 

The reality of the situation was a very rude awakening and a great shock.  The speed with which the virus spread across continents and arrived on our door step in West Wales was frightening, and that was before we witnessed the threat to the health of each and every one of us.  A situation which has not changed greatly so far as I can see, although the vaccine offers a degree of hope which many parts of the world can but pray for.  As the Psalmist continued:

thou didst hide thy face,
    I was dismayed” (Psalm 30. 7b)

From prosperity to dismay, in one very short and quick step.

 

The true weakness of humanity, once again revealed and forcefully reminded, has caused many to question and re-asses so many things, of itself not a bad thing.  For me, I have been taught my dependence on God in a very different way and context, which has changed irreversibly my perception of my life, my place and the work entrusted to me.  As in grief, I question how I would be able to endure this Pandemic without my belief in God’s presence at all times.

 

As Freemasons we all of us believe in a ‘Supreme Being’, and our prayers make clear that we believe that supreme being to be present with us in some sense, and influencing and affecting our lives.  As we set about our work in the Lodge we invoke his blessing on our labours, and as we close we give thanks for what we have received and ask for his continued favour.  Acknowledgements that we can only do so much of ourselves, and that it can only be brought to perfection by the aid of the Supreme Being.

 

In the Church the Season of Easter is drawing to a close.  Last Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, commemorating Jesus’ ascent to heaven forty days after his resurrection from the dead.  A period during which the resurrected Lord returned to prove to his followers the reality of his victory over death, and to teach them what that meant for humanity and to prepare them for the time when he would no longer be with them in the body.  Next Sunday (May 23rd) is the great Feast of Pentecost when the Church remembers and celebrates the sending of God the Holy Spirit on the disciples, that Spirit which enabled them to take the Christian message to all nations.  It is by that same Spirit that I believe that God continues to work in our world today, to be with us and to strengthen, guide and enable us in all things.

 

As with Jesus’ first disciples, so God does not abandon us and does not leave us desolate.  Humanity does have a privileged position in creation, a privilege which carries a great responsibility, but we remain part of creation, and subject to all the powers of nature – good and bad.  Yet in and through all of this, we are able to gain a different perspective of our Supreme Being, and of our place and part in the history of creation.

 

I am grateful to our Provincial Grand Master for enriching the hymn last time with the beautiful words and images so that we can sing along or listen, rather than read, as we prefer.  This hymn, based on Psalm 136, written by the non-conformist minister Isaac Watts (1674-1748) speaks of God’s enduring salvation in and through the whole creation:

 

 

Give to our God immortal praise,
mercy and truth are all his ways;
wonders of grace to God belong:
repeat his mercies in your song.

Give to the Lord of lords renown,
the King of kings with glory crown:
his mercies ever shall endure
when lords and kings are known no more.

He built the earth, he spread the sky,
and fixed the starry lights on high;
wonders of grace to God belong:
repeat his mercies in your song.

He fills the sun with morning light,
he bids the moon direct the night;
his mercies ever shall endure
when suns and moons shall shine no more.

He sent his Son with power to save
from guilt and darkness and the grave;
wonders of grace to God belong:
repeat his mercies in your song.

All through this world he guides our feet
and leads us to his heavenly seat;
his mercies ever shall endure
when this vain world shall be no more.

 

I offer this prayer:

Strengthen us, we beseech thee, O Lord, with thy Presence, and daily increase in us thy manifold gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill us, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever.  Amen.

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