Thought for the Day - 29/05/2014 - Canon Angela Tilby
Good morning. Today is one of the great days of the Christian calendar. Ascension Day. When I was a child you could get off school if you could prove you were going to church. I remember trying this wheeze but it didn’t work because my parents wouldn’t perjure themselves by writing for permission. In those days school authorities accommodated the rhythms of faith, allowing worship and rest to interrupt the timetable.
Even then we were losing the link between time off and faith, forgetting that our word holiday derives from holy day. With that loss is a loss of perspective. Secular life often seems to lack unpressured time. Even our holidays get filled up with worthwhile and ‘fun’ activities.
Since the elections a week ago I have felt carried along by the waves of bad temper, cheeky triumph and anxious complaint that the results have stirred up. There is a stand off between the political establishment and those who feel aggrieved which is set to run and run until the next elections and the next. Fascinating though all this is to news junkies like myself it can become tiring – as though we are driving ourselves round and round like hamsters in a treadmill. We can’t stop because of course it all matters. It matters whether we are in or out of Europe. It matters whether Scotland votes for independence or not. It matters whether people can move freely across borders or not.
But from another point of view it matters less than we think. Our intensity cloaks our ignorance. Because we can’t read the future we don’t exactly know why the big issues which divide us matter at all. All we can see is the present and the past, and so however passionately pro- or anti-Europe we may be; whatever our views on immigration we can’t ultimately prove our point by showing we are right; we can only back our hunches and make our case as best we can. We control less than we think we do. And our politicians are guessing too, backing their hunches, making their case in the face of uncertainty.
Sometimes sanity requires a different perspective. On Ascension Day we are called to attend not to earth but to heaven. There is a distance between earth and heaven, between what we know and what we long for. The hymns and prayers set for today describe the risen Jesus entering the presence of God, standing for the whole human race and its destiny. Heaven does not control or divide or ask for votes. But as Chares Wesley’s hymn puts it: ‘There we shall with thee remain, partners of thine endless reign’. When I go to Church this evening I will be reminded that our human dignity is given by God, and that though working for human good is the most important thing we do we have no blueprint for human happiness. Rest and contemplation matter. Everything else is guesswork.