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May 2020


A Contemplative Exercise for May

Saying for the month

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”          John 20.17  (NIV)

To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; become aware of the sounds around you and put them aside; offer this time of prayer to God.

 

Say this introductory invitation to prayer, then keep a further minute or two of silence:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11.28

 

Introduction to the first silence – a preparation for listening with the mind:

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”   

Each of the Gospel narratives gives us a different account of the resurrection, the ascension and the gift of the Spirit.  John’s is full of profound meaning and conflates the three events into one glorious day.  It is on one moment of that day that we concentrate our contemplation here.

In the light of that hazy early morning on Easter Day, Mary Magdalene’s eyes are full of tears.  She was confused and at first mistakes the figure of the gardener.  It is not until she is greeted by name that she recognises that he is the risen Jesus – Jesus said to her ‘Mary’.  Never was there a one-word greeting more charged with emotion than this.

It is the most natural thing in the world for her to cling onto Jesus’ knees.  She wants above all now to keep him.  She has been the first person to see the empty tomb and now she is the first person to whom the risen Lord appears.  It is one of the great recognition stories in the whole of literature, let alone the Bible.

Mary wants to hold on and keep him.  But she is told that she must cease touching him.  The satisfaction of her desire to keep Jesus at her side would frustrate the ultimate purpose of his life, the suffering the death and the resurrection.  The whole process seems in John to be a means of his glorification and his return to his Father.   Jesus adds I am ascending – or I am going up.

Stephen Verney in his book ‘Water into Wine’ which is a commentary on John’s Gospel writes of the great importance of the words ‘up’ and ‘down’ in the Gospel – ‘up’ the place of unselfishness, of love and goodness – ‘down’ the place of selfishness, of danger and evil.  So Jesus is going ‘up’ – returning to his Father which was the ultimate purpose of all he came to do.   Without that going ‘up’ the whole Gospel story would be empty and no more than a collection of tales and teaching.

In our first silence imagine yourself to be there in the hazy light of early dawn.  Imagine an encounter with the risen Christ there in the garden, and listen to Jesus speaking to you …

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”


A time is now kept for silence of the mind – between 5 and 15 minutes

 

The silence concludes with a short thanksgiving, and/or repeat the Saying:

 Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word.

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”

 

Introduction to the second silence – a preparation for listening with the heart:

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”

So we first listened to the words of Jesus as if we were there and were among those hearing the words for the first time.  Now we seek to receive them deep within in our own hearts.   Do we really think of heaven as somewhere up – up in the sky beyond the clouds?  But why not?  Given that a ‘cloud’ was a common symbol of the glory of God, it seems fine. 

There had to be an end somewhere.  It is unthinkable that the resurrection appearances went on and on.  There had to be a moment when the Jesus of earth and of the incarnation became the Christ of heaven and of glory.  It was both an ending – and a new beginning.

The great joy of the resurrection became deeper and deeper because of a realisation that they couldn’t hold on to Jesus as Mary Magdalene had tried to do, they were not losing him, but he would be with them always – at all times and in all places.  Up to now he had been pinned down to one place at one time, but now he could be everywhere.  He could be alongside us wherever we go and wherever we are.

More than that, just as we have tried to be with Jesus throughout his ministry and throughout his suffering and death, so now we try to be with him in his resurrection and his ascension.  The Ascension is not a one-off process, just for one moment in time.  It is for us now, in our contemplation, in our listening to his words, and we seek to ascend with him into glory.

Allow him to take you with him …

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”

 

A time is now kept for silence of the heart – between 5 and 15 minutes

 

 Conclude the silence with a short thanksgiving and/or repeat the Saying:

Father, we thank you that your Word is alive and within us.

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”

 

Introduction to the time of intercession – we use our will to reflect God's Word outwards.

“Do not hold on to me … I am ascending”

We can use these words in intercession for others as we continue in uncertain territory following the outbreak of the corona virus. The joy of the resurrection is that we are not losing Jesus, but he will be with us always – at all times and in all places, alongside us wherever we go and wherever we are.

Many of us have had to let go of our normal ways of worship and the life of our church communities - we pray we may ‘let go and let God’ as we become accustomed to new ways of worship and discover new aspects of our faith.   

Say the name of a person or a group of people, and after a short pause, repeat the saying.

 

Conclude the time of intercession with words of thanksgiving:

Father, we thank you that your Word has gone out through us to those for whom we pray.


Use the Fellowship Prayer or another closing prayer to conclude your time of contemplative prayer.

Ever Loving God, we thank you for all your unsearchable riches which pour forth from you as light from the sun, in boundless profusion and generosity, whether received, ignored or rejected. And now we offer to you, in so far as we are able, as an emptiness to be filled with your divine fullness, ourselves, our souls and bodies; all that we are, all that we have and all that we do, until you are all in all and we are complete. Amen.

 

You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.

 

         This month’s exercise was contributed by AE