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cause for pause mansfield weekly chapel

Welcome

Week 4

In times of restraint and physical distancing, when the body of Christ cannot meet in one place we are finding new ways to worship together. This self-led order for evening prayer with contributions from members across the Mansfield community, invites us to slow down as we approach the end of the day. You may conduct your worship in silence or you may use the videos included throughout.

You may wish to begin by lighting a candle in your home (if you are able) and use this time and space to reflect on the activity of the day that has just passed and commit it to God. We are then invited to contemplate the night of restoration that lies ahead, entrusting ourselves to God.

Almighty God, your only Son was taken into the heavens and in your presence intercedes for us. Receive us and our prayers for all the world and in the end bring everything into your glory. Amen.

Psalm 93

The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.

He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.

More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!

Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore.

Lord God, in raising Jesus from the grave you established a dominion that can never be shaken or destroyed by death. May your will be done on earth as in heaven, and make firm our faith in the certainty of your promises; through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.

Luke 24:44-53

[Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Reflection

by Professor Stephen J. Blundell (Mansfield College)

We all want to go up in the world. Up is the direction of aspiration, and a state of mind which is positive and uplifting. Feeling blue is feeling down, and being sent down is Oxford lingo for banishment. We have all been conditioned to feel that up is good and down is bad. The people in charge are the people at the top, and we work under them. Can you imagine any company having an organogram, a diagram showing the hierarchy or pecking order, in which the CEO is at the bottom and the junior employees are at the top? I’m not saying that the CEO shouldn’t be in charge, I’m just pointing out that we all make a bizarre connection between the vertical direction and our mood, or our ambitions, or our position in society. What have the directions of up and down, pointing against or along the direction of gravity, got to do with our emotional wellbeing or our professional advancement?

Right at the moment of course, most of us don’t yearn to go up but to get out. Under lockdown, we are confined to our homes and rather than social advancement many of us are just longing to escape. Those precious moments each day when we are allowed to emerge from captivity, to go outside and take exercise away from our homes, feel like little experiences of our lost freedoms. But out isn’t a direction, it’s just the state of being away, of being liberated.

Forty days after Easter, we are celebrating Ascension Day. As we read in the closing lines of Luke’s gospel, “while (Jesus) was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” The Ascension seems like the ultimate in going up in the world. In fact, there are many examples in Christian art depicting Jesus’ ascension as a vertical elevation on some kind of angel-powered jet-pack (see the 15th century painting by Andrea Mantegna below); in some paintings (see the 16th century example below) only Jesus’ feet are visible at the top of the painting, the artist cropping their composition to conceal anything above the Saviour’s ankles.

Ascension of Christ by Andrea Mantegna 1431–1506
Ascension of Christ by Adriaen van Overbeke, c. 1510-1520

But is this really how we should understand the Ascension? The bit about Jesus being “taken up” is not in all manuscripts of Luke’s gospel, so maybe it was a later addition. It does appear in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, but the word for “taken up” could also be translated “taken out”.

As a physicist, I’m always thinking about dimensions. Three-dimensional space contains directions like forward-backward, left-right and up-down. But more often we have to work with spaces of many more dimensions, curved spacetimes and other conceptions that stretch the imagination but which nevertheless relate to the physical world. For example, a moving atom has a spatial position encoded by three dimensions, x, y and z, but its velocity is encoded by three numbers which live in three further dimensions of what we call velocity space. This single atom is then represented by a point in a six-dimensional space. A thousand atoms would be described in a six-thousand-dimensional space. This is already more physics than some of you want to hear about, but perhaps enough to demonstrate that there is more to space than just up and down. Thus, I think it can be helpful to think of the Ascension as the moment when Jesus was taken out of the world, released from the confinement of an earthly life and restored to the freedoms of a heavenly realm.

In any case, Luke doesn’t spend much ink on the vexed issue of what the Ascension looked like or what was physically going on. He’s much more interested on what comes next. While the disciples were standing and gawping at the Ascension, Luke reports on two men dressed in white who interject: “Men of Galilee …why do you stand here looking into the sky?” It’s time to move on to the next thing. The two men go on: “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.” In other words, the Ascension is not the end, but a pointer to the future.

Next comes Pentecost, and Peter’s address which sets all these events into some kind of context.

The Ascension must have felt like a kind of loss. The disciples had followed Jesus for years, living closely with him and sharing in his life. The crucifixion must have seemed like game over, yet the resurrection had given them forty days of extra time. But now, the final whistle had been blown, and this was finally it. He was hidden from their sight. They were on their own.

J. S. Bach wrote an Ascension Oratorio in 1735, perfect listening for this time of the year. It contains a beautiful soprano aria called Jesu, deine Gnadenblicke kann ich doch beständig sehn (Jesus, I can continually see Thy looks of mercy). It’s played with a delicate accompaniment of two unison flutes, oboe and unison strings, that flutter around the voice like butterflies in the sunlight. The melody is confident and hopeful, but the result is the very antithesis of triumphalist bombast. The gentle soprano voice sings about how though Jesus has gone out of this world, freed from the shackles of three dimensions, his refreshing love remains to sustain those of us still confined on Earth. Here’s how the aria ends:

Thy love remains behind,

so that I here on earth

might already refresh my soul

with the glory that is to come,

when we one day shall stand before Thee.

A Moment for Reflection

Prayers of the People

Lord God, we give thanks for the gift of creation, the mighty seas and the bountiful land, all entrusted to our care. May we be dutiful stewards of the environment and all its creatures.

Lord God, your love indeed remains behind and we pray that we have the courage and openness to share this love with all people. Teach us kindness and refresh our souls so that we may reach out to all in need.

Lord God, we pray for the community of Mansfield, as we long for that day when we are reunited with one another, continue to strengthen us as we hold one another in our hearts.

Lord God, we especially pray for students studying in their final year. ‘Give them a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant them the talent of being exact in their explanations and the ability to express themselves with thoroughness and charm.’ (St Thomas Aquinas)

Lord God, strengthen, inspire, encourage, and protect those in public health services and in the medical profession: care-givers, nurses, attendants, doctors, researchers, all who commit themselves to caring for the sick and their families.

Lord God, comfort and strengthen our hearts and our minds, and in the midst of turmoil, give us hope and peace.

Hear our cry, O God. Listen to our prayer.

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen

O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works: give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments; and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God forever. Amen.

We give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected us today. We ask you to forgive us all our sins, where we have done wrong, and graciously to protect us tonight. Into your hands we commend ourselves: our bodies, our souls, and all that is ours. Let your holy angels be with us, so that the wicked foe may have no power over us. Amen.

Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

A Final Moment of Music

March from The Occasional Oratorio by G F Handel (1685-1759)

Thank you to all who contributed to this order of service for evening prayer. If you would like to contribute, please contact the Chaplain (chaplain@mansfield.ox.ac.uk). Next week's service will be available from midday on Wednesday.

Credits:

Created with images by Andraz Lazic - "Feather on the lake. " • Zbysiu Rodak - "untitled image" • Paul Gilmore - "Hike To The Sky" • CHIRAG K - "untitled image" • Anton Darius - "Setting sun over a meadow" • Matthew T Rader - "A spiralling stained glass window inside a chapel at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas."