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A Celebration for Ascension Day

From St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, featuring Bob Chilcott's A Little Jazz Mass. Fr Timothy Radcliffe is the preacher, and the celebrant is the Rev Dr Sam Wells.

Hundreds gather in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square to celebrate Ascension Day, marking the moment when the risen Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving his disciples with the joyful promise of the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Featuring Bob Chilcott's 'A Little Jazz Mass' sung by the BBC Daily Service Singers and the Choir of St Martin-in-the Fields directed by Bob Chilcott. Organist: Andrew Earis.

The preacher is Dominican Fr Timothy Radcliffe, author and former Master of the Order of Preachers.
The celebrant is the Vicar of St Martin's, the Revd Dr Sam Wells.
Producer: Simon Vivian.

58 minutes

Last on

Thu 29 May 2014 20:00

A Celebration for Ascension Day

Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


BBC Radio 4

A Celebration for Ascension Day


Thursday 29th May 2014 - 2002-2100hrs

Live from St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London


Celebrant: The Revd Dr Sam Wells (Vicar, St Martin-in-the-Fields)

Preacher: Fr Timothy Radcliffe (former Master of the Order of Preachers and author)


Director of Music: Bob Chilcott

Organ: Andrew Earis (Director of Music, St Martin-in-the-Fields)


The BBC Radio 4 Daily Service Singers

The Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields

Brandenburg Brass

The Ascension Jazz Trio


Producer: Simon Vivian

Broadcast Assistants: Vanessa Ford

Senior Audio Supervisor: Steve Richards


Opening Continuity Announcement:

BBC Radio 4.  And now it’s time to go live to St Martin-in-the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square for 'A Celebration for Ascension Day’.  The service is led by the Vicar of St Martin’s, the Revd Dr Sam Wells and begins with Bob Chilcott’s choral fanfare:  ‘Let the earth acclaim him’.


Introit: Let the earth acclaim him

Music: Bob Chilcott (b.1955)

Words: Timothy Dudley-Smith (b.1926)


Welcome (Celebrant)


Opening Hymn: Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!

Music: ‘Llanfair’ – Robert Williams (1781-1821)

Words: Charles Wesley (1707-88) & Thomas Cotterill (1779-1823)


Prayers of Penitence (Celebrant)


Kyrie eleison

from A Little Jazz Mass

Music: Bob Chilcott (b.1955)


Absolution (Celebrant)



from A Little Jazz Mass

Music: Bob Chilcott (b.1955)


Collect (Celebrant)


Reading - Acts 1:1-11

Dame Mary Tanner

former European President of the World Council of Churches


            A reading from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1.


In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.  ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’


So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’  When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’


            This is the Word of the Lord.

All:       Thanks be to God.


Gradual Hymn: The head that once was crowned with thorns

Music: ‘St Magnus’ – Jeremiah Clarke (c.1673-1707)

Words: Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)


The Gospel - Matthew 28:16-20

The Revd Dr Joel Edwards

International Director, Micah Challenge


Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

All:       Glory to you O Lord.


Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’


This is the Gospel of the Lord.

All:       Praise to you, O Christ.


Sermon (Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP)


‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ – Jesus’ words to his disciples.  One of my friends, a woman, said: ‘Typical man.  He says that he’ll always be there for you, and then you never see him again.’


The Ascension is the oddest Christian feast.  We celebrate Jesus’ disappearance.  You might imagine him shooting up into the sky, like a rocket.  In a chapel in Italy you see his feet hanging down from the ceiling.  How much longer did he go on upwards?  What would you have seen if you’d been passing by in a jet plane at 35,000 feet?


But that would be to misunderstand the Ascension entirely.  When the disciples are hanging around looking upwards, the angels say: ‘Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’  Jesus didn’t go anywhere.  He was taken up into God, and God is not anywhere in particular.  God is everywhere, sustaining everything in being.  Until the Ascension Jesus had been one person among others.  When he was in Jerusalem, he was no longer in Galilee.  Now he disappears so as to be present to every human being, whether we recognise him or not.


The closer we get to God, the more he disappears.  It’s like seeing a friend on the other side of the room.  Then you can see the whole person.  You cross the room and give her a hug.  Then you can just see her face.  When you prepare to give her a kiss, you see only her mouth.  When you kiss her, you see nothing.  She’s disappeared, not because she’s absent but because she’s intimately present, too close to be seen.


And so it is with God.  He keeps on disappearing.  We lose the childhood image of God as an old man with a woolly beard sitting on a cloud.  Then, as we grow up, we should lose the image of God as a really powerful person running the Universe, a control freak.  Some people never lose that image and so get angry with God for not fixing things.  The disciples had to lose Jesus as someone whose face they could see, with whom you could have a drink and go to a party.  On Ascension Day we celebrate the great disappearance, because Jesus has come so close to each of us, sharing our joy and sorrow.  St. Augustine said that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.


Think of Jesus’ face. Israel had always longed for God to smile at her.  ‘Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved,’ the psalmist writes.  Salvation is basking in God’s warm smile.  That smile became flesh and blood in the face of this Jewish man two thousand years ago.  His eyes were open to spot the people no one noticed.  When Levi the tax collector was hanging around in the crowd, the pious people would have seen a disreputable person who grabbed their money.  Jesus saw a good person, who was capable of being a disciple.  As the poor widow was making her tiny donation to the Temple, Jesus saw someone giving everything they had in praise of God.  Despite having denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus re-commissioned Peter.  We might have seen a traitor; Jesus saw a good man who got afraid and betrayed himself.

At the Ascension that face disappeared.  We’ve no idea what Jesus looked like.  I hope that he didn’t look like the usual image that we have, of a slightly greasy long haired hippy!  Now each of us can be the face of Jesus.  St Teresa of Avila said: ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world.’


To be Christ’s face is to see through the protective masks that people put on, and the prejudices that blind us to their goodness.  Recently I was driven into the Algerian Sahara by the bishop and we got caught up in some fighting and were very nearly taken hostage.  I shall always remember a young man standing in front of the car with a stone the size of a football, looking as if he would throw it through the windscreen at any moment.  I tried to engage his eyes.  It was distorted with anger. But under the anger I could see fear.  And under the fear I could just glimpse a gentle face, the face of someone caught up in a mob, a good person.  Then the bishop spotted a gap in the crowd, put his foot on the accelerator, and we escaped.


Jesus was invited to dinner by the Pharisee Simon.  A woman burst into the room who seems to have had a notorious sex life.  She began to weep and wash Jesus’ feet, much to the disgust of his host.  And Jesus puts the strangest question to him: ‘Simon, do you see this woman?’  What was Jesus asking?  Do you just see a disgusting person, Simon?  Or do you see someone who has tried to love but got herself into a mess, as we all do sometimes.


Do we see people begging on the street as vermin, or as our brothers and sisters in Christ?  How do we see immigrants or hedge fund managers?  This doesn’t mean that we abandon all hard-headed thinking, and become gooey and sentimental faced with the problems of our society.  But we don’t see clearly, truthfully, until we see that fundamental goodness in each human being.


So the Ascension is the feast of Jesus’ disappearance into the world.  We can no longer see his face.  And yet we see it everywhere.  Later that day in the Sahara, we got lost and didn’t how to get to our destination.  We met a Muslim father and his two sons.  I won’t forget their faces.  They smiled at us and offered us a bed for the night.  You come across the face of God when you least expect it.


Anthem: Let all the world

Music: Sasha Johnson Manning (b.1963)

Words: George Herbert (1593-1633)


Affirmation of Faith


Intercessions (The Revd Clair Jaquiss & The Revd Canon Stephen Shipley)




Offertory Hymn: Crown him with many crowns,

Music: ‘Diademata’ – George Elvey (1816-93)

Words: Matthew Bridges (1800-94)


Eucharistic Prayer (Celebrant)


Sanctus & Benedictus

from A Little Jazz Mass

Music: Bob Chilcott (b.1955)


Breaking of the Bread


The Lord’s Prayer

Celebrant:     Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us:

All:       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,

the power and the glory,

for ever and ever.



Invitation (Celebrant)


The Distribution


Agnus Dei

from A Little Jazz Mass

Music: Bob Chilcott (b.1955)


Ave verum corpus

Music: Colin Mawby (b.1936)


Prayer after Communion (Celebrant)


Blessing (Celebrant)


Final Hymn: Christ triumphant, ever reigning,

Music: ‘Guiting Power’ – John Barnard (b.1948)

Words: Michael Saward (b.1932)


Dismissal (Celebrant)


Voluntary: Grand Choeur on Ite Missa est

Music: Guy Weitz (1883-1970)