I have taken three services of Holy Communion today, sitting with these two texts at each of them:
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them…Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’ But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
There is a long thread running through the Old Testament: the story of the God who descended from the heavens to Mount Horeb in the Sinai peninsula to rescue a people from slavery in Egypt; who then journeyed with them through the wilderness for a generation and after that as they established themselves as a nation in a land of their own; before ascending on Mount Zion, a hill in Jerusalem where David made a resting place for the tabernacle—symbol of God’s presence—and his son Solomon built the temple.
The writers of the New Testament saw this thread as prefiguring Jesus, who descended from heaven in the incarnation, camped out with us (in the words of the Prologue to John’s Gospel) for a generation, and ascended to the Father. Writing to Christian converts living among the Jewish diaspora, the writer to ‘the Hebrews’ reminds them where they are in this story. They are not at Mount Horeb, but at Mount Zion. They did not encounter Jesus while he walked about among us, but after his ascension. And that is where we are, too.
We have, at it were, entered the story at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus says, ‘All authority on earth and in heaven has been given to me: go, therefore, and disciple nations…’
How do we do that? In the same way as Jesus’ first disciples. He sent them to enter into a village; to live with a family for a season, inviting them into life in its fullness; and then to move on, to repeat the descend-dwell-ascend pattern again and again.
The third of the services I took today was for the Mother’s Union. Across much of the world, the Mothers’ Union is a force to be reckoned with for good, equipping women to go into communities and live alongside families helping them to build patterns of living that promote stability in contexts of poverty, gender-based violence, living with HIV or mental illness; caring for prisoners and befriending the elderly. In this way, communities are caught-up in the ascension, in the life-giving rule of Christ over the nations.
Just before I took the first of the three services, I heard the news that Michael Green had died yesterday. Michael was an Anglican vicar and theological educator, a passionate evangelist who specialised in university missions, the author of over fifty books. He was also my godfather. As a dear friend of my parents, he came into my life before I was born, has encouraged me on my faith journey, and has now gone ahead to be with the ascended Lord Jesus face-to-face. But he was no stranger to that pattern: coming in to peoples’ lives and introducing them to Jesus for the first time in student missions; or investing in generations of women and men in training for ministry, in their time at theological college. Rest in peace, uncle Michael, and rise in glory.
We have come to Mount Zion. We enter, stay, and we leave, called onward, ever onward. This is our story. May we live it, to the full.