The Ascension of Christ by Salvador Dali, 1958

Some might still imagine the universe as a three storied structure, with heaven above, earth in the middle and hell below. Even so, I doubt I could find anyone who would say that space travel could ever bring us to heaven.

It is true that the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:1-11) definitely uses the language of ‘up’. Yet it strikes me as less a description of leaving and more a matter of completion. In the most profound way, I hear the ascension of Jesus as completing his incarnation. Jesus came amongst us and took our our human life to restore us to relationship with our God, here and now. Our God resides not apart from us but amongst us, which is the whole point of Pentecost. Home is not ‘up’ but here. With God. Thank God.

If you are in the area, you are warmly invited to join us in worship this Sunday. During the service a nursery is offered for infants and there is a programme for children. There is ample free parking available on the streets around (even where it states no parking during certain day time hours), and in the public surface lot behind the church on Queen Street west of Clergy. Have a look at the Order of Service, and the announcements, and join us!

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When you hear the phrase ‘the rock and the sword’, what comes to mind? If you are like me, the image is probably that of Merlin bringing the unknown young man Arthur to a great stone at Westminster, and Arthur pulling the sword and being crowned King of England. That is what would come to my mind, if I were not the Minister of St. Andrew’s Church Kingston, that is!

In fact if you plug ‘the rock and the sword’ into any internet search engine, the first listing is for a volume of this congregation’s history! This Sunday morning, author Brian S. Osborne will present St. Andrew’s with a revised and expanded version of its history, in preparation for the 200th anniversary celebrations of the congregation commencing September 16-17 later this year.

The title of this book is taken from a quote of Robertson Davies, who spent formative years in St. Andrew’s and wrote ‘I have found the Shorter Catechism a rock at my back and a sword in my hand’. The sermon this Sunday will take up the phrase ‘the rock and the sword’ but will delve beyond the volume of history, beyond Robertson Davies, beyond even the Shorter Catechism, and focus upon some scripture texts that might prove a strength to us in our day (and in particular I Samuel 2:1-8, Psalm 62 and Ephesians 6:10-17).

If you are in the area, please join us. There is ample free parking along the surrounding streets, and during the service there is a nursery available for infants and a programme for children. After the service there is a congregational lunch to which all are welcome. Have a look at the order of service, and announcements within. It would be a pleasure to welcome you!

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Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859–1937), Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, ca. 1909. Oil on canvas, 48.8 × 40 in. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas.

I was introduced to this painting recently by Victoria Emily Jones through a blog at ‘Art and Theology’. I must admit that at first I thought Mary was teaching her son to knit … which brought a great smile to my face … but my heart was warmed when I realized that they were pouring over a scroll of the scriptures.

On this Sunday in our worship, we think of our families. We will read a passage from our contemporary Canadian statement of faith (‘Living Faith – Foi Vivante’) that ‘God’s purpose for us can be realized in both single and married life.’ We are not defined by the presence or absence of a partner, by the giving birth or adopting of children, by having siblings or an extended family. We are defined by how we allow the love of God known in Christ to flow into, and through, us whatever the particular constellation of our lives.

The fact that not one of us chooses to be born, that each one of us is brought into this world by a mother, is a humbling place to start our spiritual journey. So I appreciate the opportunity this morning to thank God for all I have learned, even via negativa, by those who have been family to me.

Who knows if back in the day a modest carpenter’s family could have afforded a scroll of scripture? In this painting I am reminded that for many of us, Christian faith and life is something that has become real for us in the witness of some within our families, whether grandparent, parent, sibling or even child.

Join us if you are in the area to give God thanks. There is ample free parking on the streets around the church, and in the public surface lot just behind the church off Queen Street. During our worship there is a nursery offered for infants and a programme for children. Have a look at the Order of Service and the announcements within. You will be welcome!

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Canada 150 Tulip

As I walk about town (when the rain lets up!), it is a joy to see the tulips appear in the various gardens I pass after their long winter slumber. Béatrice and I planted some of the Canada 150 bulbs, and we are waiting impatiently for them to open.

These tulips have reminded me of some of the great Reformed emphases upon celebrating the providence of God. This world is not a product of chance nor coincidence but is a creation of the Sovereign God, intentionally good: ‘While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’ (Genesis 8 :22). God is not just Creator but Sustainer, maintaining the changing seasons with such regularity as an gracious opportunity for humanity to grow in maturity of soul and society: ‘God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good alike and sends his rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45).

It is an opportunity that we often squander, even misuse, of course. In Tulipmania, Mike Dash tells the story how the marvellous flower that came to be known as the tulip was gradually carried from its native mountains in Central Asia to Persia and Turkey then to Europe, where in the years 1633-37, they became an obsession in the Netherlands and an investment. In 1637, one bulb alone was sold for the equilivant of $1.5 million. But then the speculative market collapsed, and many families were left destitute, and the national economy entered a depression. A gift and thing of beauty is commodified and exploited, to the ultimate harm of many – a story repeated over and over again in human history.

God’s greatest act of providence, I believe, is the provision of our healing and hope in Jesus Christ. If you are in the area this Sunday, join us in an hour of classic Christian worship. Have a look at the order of service – inside you will find the scripture texts for reflection and preparation. There is ample parking on the streets around the church, and in the public lot behind the church off Queen Street. During the service there is a nursery for infants and a programme for young children. You would be welcome!

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I read a column by George Monbiot recently in The Guardian Weekly, commenting on the way digital technology and contemporary urban culture are moving us further and further from actual tangible experience … with significant consequences. ‘It is no longer rare to meet adults who have never swum except in a swimming pool, never slept except in a building, never run a mile or climbed a mountain, never been stung by a bee or a wasp, never broken a bone or needed stitches. Without a visceral knowledge of what it is to be hurt and healed, exhausted and resolute, freezing and ecstatic, we lose our reference points. Climate change, distant wars, the erosion of democracy, resurgent fascism – in our temperature-controlled enclosures, all can be reduced to abstractions’. These insights caused me to pause and reflect deeply.

They also caused me to be all the more grateful. The reason is called ‘The Mess’, and it has a home at St. Andrew’s. Three days a week individuals break out of virtual reality and social isolation to seek human community and enjoy the experience of tangible creativity. It is a wonderfully healing and hope-filled place/people. This Sunday Sandi Dodds shares with us some of the biblical imperatives and personal joys of ‘The Mess’.

Join us if you are in the area. There is parking along the streets and in a public surface lot just behind the church off Queen Street. A nursery for infants and a programme for children is offered during the service. Have an advance peak at the Order of Service, and please consider each of the announcements that follow a personal invitation to join in Christian faith, community and service.

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Fritz von Uhde. Der Gang nach Emmaus (1891)

Last Sunday I mentioned reading about an uproar in England, over the National Trust rebranding the Easter weekend event on its over 300 historic properties from ‘Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt’ to ‘Cadbury Egg Hunt’. Many Christians expressed dismay and even anger about dropping ‘Easter’.

Beyond wondering how Christian is the symbol of the ‘Easter egg’ itself, I was amused to read also that John Cadbury, the founder of Cadbury in 1824, was a Quaker. As a committed Quaker, John would probably have had little interest in the current uproar – he did not believe in ‘Easter’ himself, or any special Christian day for that matter, because he believed that every day is one on which to encounter and celebrate the Risen Lord!

At St. Andrew’s, we certainly not limit Easter to one Sunday. With many other Christian traditions, we will celebrate Easter as a season, lingering before the mystery and the joy of the Resurrection, continuing the celebration for 50 days all the way to Pentecost.

This Sunday we begin with the wonderful story of the two despairing disciples walking away from Calvary whose hearts and lives are renewed by a stranger who accompanies them (Luke 24: 13-35). The sermon title is taken T.S.Elliot, The Waste Land (lines 359-365)

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman –
But who is that on the other side of you?

If you are in the area, have a look at the Order of Service, and join us. There is even a congregational pot luck afterwards, with always lots to share with visitors. There is ample parking on the streets around and in the public surface lot just behind the church off Queen Street. And during the service there is a nursery offered for children and a programme for children five and over.

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‘Calmly plotting the resurrection’ is the title of a book of Lenten devotions by Donna E. Schaper. It is a great title. The ‘plotting’ refers not to active arrangement (as in ‘they were plotting a coup’) but to charting the movements of another (as in ‘they are plotting the orbit of the comet’). Schaper challenges me to be open to identifying and joining the movements of God for life, in my life.

This Sunday we ‘plot’ the path of Jesus towards Resurrection.  In the cantata ‘No Greater Love’, the Choir of St. Andrew’s will point to this path of Jesus with scripture and song. It begins with the praise of others, but proceeds through betrayal, abandonment and death.

In plotting the path of Jesus, to light through darkness, we are reminded of the great power and promises of God for Christ and Christian. We are reminded that when we face darkness, even death, God is not absent, God is at work for us there, perhaps especially there. In plotting the path of Jesus, we who follow grow in trust and calmness, allowing our lives to show the same generosity towards others and strength in truth that was lived by Jesus.

Join us in the worship of God this Sunday. There is a programme for children and a nursery for infants during the service – before the service they are invited to gather with the Minister in St. Andrew’s Hall and with palms in hand process into the sanctuary behind the choir! Free parking can be found along the neighbouring streets and in the public surface lot just behind the church off Queen Street.

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