We can work it out?
Ascension and the humanist viewpoint
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore students’ sense of spirituality by looking at the story of Jesus’ ascension (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and a reader. The reader’s text is based on Luke 24 and Acts 1.
- Ascension Day is celebrated on 29 May in 2014.
- Have available the song ‘Your love keeps lifting me higher and higher’ by Jackie Wilson and the means to play it at the end of the assembly (check copyright).
- 1. Leader Are you a humanist or a theist? To put it another way, how good are you at problem-solving?
Let’s start with supposedly simple puzzles, such as crosswords and Sudoku. Personally, I quickly reach a level where I’m struggling.
What about mechanical problems? Could you mend a car engine, a sewing machine or a computer that’s not working properly? A few people seem to have a natural gift for mending gadgets, but not many of us.
- Let’s think about relationships next. When there’s an argument or a breakdown in a relationship, maybe between your friends or even between your parents, how good are you at helping them solve their problem? How good are they? Is there anyone who can help? Very occasionally, an outsider can give them the input that helps, but not often.
- Finally, there are the big problems of the world – issues such as freedom, poverty, injustice and inequality. There are organizations, such as the United Nations, that attempt to address specific problems, but we can see from the daily news that the results are patchy.
- The humanist approach to life starts from the premise that humans possess all the resources we need to solve the problems we face. If we could apply the best minds and the best research to the issues of the world, then solutions could be found. If we haven’t discovered them yet, it’s merely because we need more time, more resources, more logical and lateral thinking. Probably, this the way that most of us here live our lives and, for some of the time, it appears to work.
I want to show you another approach. It comes from one of the most unusual, almost sci-fi, stories from the life of Jesus.
- Reader After Jesus was raised back to life, the Bible recounts that he spent 40 days with his disciples, teaching them and showing them, by his example, how they were to continue his work of preaching, teaching and healing. Then, one day, he took them outside the city of Jerusalem, to the village of Bethany. As they were stood together on a hillside, without warning, Jesus apparently rose into a cloudy sky and disappeared from sight. It was the last time any of them would see him.
- Leader A strange story! What does it all mean?
Many people agree with most of Jesus’ teachings. Many people see him as one of the most significant men who ever lived. Many people say that, if we lived by his principles, we could solve a lot of the world’s problems, but this story takes us to a different dimension.
Christians believe what makes Jesus unique is that he brings together the resources of being human and the resources of being God, as he is God and human in one person. Christians believe that, in addition to giving commonsense, thoughtful teaching on relationships, morality, economics and almost every other aspect of human life, just like many other wise men and women, Jesus offered to us a share in the divine resources that would enable us to live out this teaching. This power of God he called the Holy Spirit.
- The story of Jesus leaving his disciples on the hillside is that of the ascension. The Christian Church celebrates this event on Ascension Day, which this year falls on Thursday 29 May. This event is seen as marking the close of Jesus’ work in human terms. Jesus is now trusting humanity to get on with the job using the power of God, which he has introduced them to. He’s told them that they, too, can now do everything they’ve seen him do, if they believe and trust in that power.
Time for reflection
Do you remember my question at the start of assembly? I asked, ‘Are you a humanist or a theist?’ It’s a question about the resources we’re prepared to use in living our lives, in solving our problems. Some of us will be content to use the best advice and training we can get in human terms. Ascension Day suggests that there may be something else as well. A theist is someone who holds open the possibility that there is a God and God can be involved in human lives like yours and mine, helping solve problems that you and I face.
Thank you for the life of Jesus, his human nature and his God nature.
When we run out of ideas,
When we face a difficult problem,
When there seems no solution,
Remind us of the God resources you offer.
‘Your love keeps lifting me higher and higher’ by Jackie Wilson