I have two CVs on my desk at the moment. One is from a priest who has expressed interest in ministering here in the Maitland Archdeaconry who I will be meeting next week to explore possibilities. The other is from a Princeton Professor who I do not know and who I will never meet.
All of us who have gone through the process of applying for a new job, or exploring a promotion or a change in direction, know that the art of writing a CV is to massage what is true (without being untruthful) to put us in the very best light, and give the maximum possibility that someone will think that we are worth considering. Even if we no longer need to worry about this for ourselves, we know that for our children and grand children this is a reality in their own lives.
When we interviewed Maryka to be our new Parish Office Administrator, we didn’t begin by saying, well she has a nice smile so that’s all that matters – we wanted to know, from her record of previous employment and activities, whether the things that she has done in the past gave us an indication that she would be able to do, in the future, what we would need her to do here in the Parish. The idea behind a CV is that past performance is the best indicator of future behaviour. If someone has done something successfully somewhere else, they have all the chances of doing it again, perhaps even better when given a new opportunity.
So I have two CVs on my desk. One from someone who is exploring a new job, and one from this Professor Johannes Haushofer, an academic at Princeton University. The interesting thing about the second CV (which someone passed on to me simply because they thought that I would enjoy reading it) is that it lists not his successes but his failures. It has taken the internet by storm and has been circulated widely around the world.
Amongst other things, the professor lists the degree programmes that he applied for but wasn’t accepted into, the jobs that he applied for and wasn’t offered, and the papers that he wrote that no one was willing to publish. In an interview following his publication of this ‘CV of failures’, the professor said, “this ‘CV of failures’ has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work…” He goes on to say, “the truth is that most of what I try actually fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me… This ‘CV of failures’ is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.”
As I read through his CV and the interviews that he has given in newspapers, there seems to be something deeply truthful and honest in all of this. Whether we have ever written a CV or not, we all know that there are two realities – that are like two CVs – at work in our lives. There are the list of things that have gone well, that we have done well, and for Christians that includes those times when we have been true to ourselves and to God; and then there are the list of failures, of the times when we have been rather underwhelming, when there hasn’t been a clear correlation between the things that we say we believe and the truths that we say that we live by, and the things that we have actually said and done.
In the night Office of Compline, the prayers that Christians pray at the end of the day, there is a space for recollection. To stop, in the darkness, before the day comes to its conclusion, to reflect on all that has happened in the last day – the good, the bad, the average. To place into God’s hands – all of it – the bits that we are pleased to share with him, and the bits that we would like to keep hidden to ourselves. A time to say thank you, and a time to say sorry. Both the CVs if you like, of how we would like to be, and how we really are. Well, you know me… sometimes there is quite a list! I am not proud of it, but it is how it is. It can be painful to reflect honestly at the end of the day.
Praying Compline at the end of the day is not for everyone. It might not be for you. But honest recollection – being mindful of where God has helped us to succeed, and also where God has been with us in our failings, is a non-negotiable part of our Christian discipleship. We do this together in the liturgy week by week in our prayers of penitence, and some of us were taught that that was the first task when we arrived in church, before worship begins. To stop and give thanks for everything in the past week, and to reflect on our own shortcomings too. But there is a lot to do for some of us when we arrive in church, and people to see and greet, and all manner of other distractions, so that is not always possible.
If the end of the day, or if before the beginning of worship are not a good time for you to do it, then I encourage you to find another regular time, to simply be still and aware of where things are up to in your life: where you are succeeding to be the person that God wants you to be, and where you need his help to give things another go.
This mixture that we experience in ourselves, of being people who are faithful to God, and then unfaithful to him, of doing the things that are good and right, and then at other times doing the things that are not – letting God, ourselves and others down along the way, are as true for the whole of humanity as they are for any one of us. We might say that they are a fundamental experience that binds all of us as human beings together.
Of course all of that could easily lead us to despair. There are times when we are overwhelmed by the reality that we are not able to be the people that we want to be, when we feel helpless to sort out the things that are going on around us and within us. God knows it, and Jesus experienced it in the lives of the people that he met. But here is the fundamental truth at the heart of what we celebrate today in this great Festival of the Ascension.
After Jesus ascended into Heaven he did not just wait around for us to worship him, basking in the glory of his Father as he sits at his right hand. The Bible and our Christian tradition tell us something absolutely extraordinary. Jesus is continually interceding for us. Jesus is praying for you and for me. Take a breath for a moment to take that in. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords has ascended into Heaven in order to pray for you, at the right hand of the Father, surrounded by angels and archangels and all the heavenly host. Jesus’ ministry on Earth affected every time and every place; and brought – through his death and resurrection – the possibility of salvation for the whole world, but it all took place in just one time and one place.
The life of Jesus, which can affect for good all lives, was lived in one small place, at one particular time. And his presence in that place was met by the best and the worst of the realities of humanity. On the one hand people responded to Jesus by giving up everything to return to God and to follow Jesus. And on the other hand they responded by nailing him to a Cross and leaving him to die.
If the Christian life – your life, my life – was just about salvation, just about what happens when we die, then we might say that Jesus’ work was completed for all time, in that one time, two thousand years ago. But Christians have never been called to just hang around and wait for Jesus’ return, or to live with him for eternity (whichever comes first). Followers of Jesus have always been called to live lives, here and now that model his life. And that is what we call sanctification. Becoming holy, becoming more like Jesus.
We can’t do that simply by reading stories of Jesus’ life in the Bible. We need more help than that to persevere as his followers. God knew that our track record as humans was not entirely as we would like it to be, that there was as much on the list of our failings, as there was on the list of getting things right. And so Jesus’s ascension was always part of God’s plan. Think back to the Gospel reading on Easter Day. Mary Magdalene speaks to the Risen Lord and almost his first words to her are, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “‘I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.’”
Jesus ascends into heaven, and sends his Holy Spirit, his presence with us now and every day, so that we are not alone, not unsupported, in our experiences of trying to live the way that he calls us to live. He ascends so that all that was experienced in one time and one place, in Bethlehem and Jerusalem might be experienced by us who live in the Spirit’s power in every time and in every place. He ascends so that, seated at the right hand of his Father, he might intercede for us – pray for us – as we seek to live for him. He ascends so that we might have the hope, that through the Spirit’s power, Jesus’ work of sanctification in us might make us holy. He ascends because God believes in us: God believes that we can change, that things can be better – that what we are ashamed of on one day, we can through our resolve to be different, and through the Spirit’s power, and most importantly through the prayers of Jesus – can be put right, turned around, made anew.
In the coming days we will commend to God three dear sisters, three friends in Christ. Edna, Val and Joan have all been a part of our life here in this Church. They have known the presence of Jesus at work in their lives through the Holy Spirit, now their work is done and we pray for them with love as we commend them to God’s eternal embrace. At the same time this weekend we welcome Oliver, Theodore and Annabel to new life in Christ’s body through baptism. All that Edna and Val and Joan faced in their lives – the love and the joy, and the pain and the disappointment will be experienced by Oliver, Theodore and Annabel in the years to come. They will leave in their wake a great list of successes and also a list of failures. There will be times when they will live as God intended them to, and times when they won’t.
But whatever happens, they like all the Christians who have gone before them will not live alone. God’s Spirit will be with them, Jesus will be praying for them. Today we celebrate his ascension, and next weekend on the Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate God’s presence with us forever, by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Take heart, be encouraged. Worship God and be filled with joy. The one who has ascended, is with us always, by his Spirit, and is interceding for us at God’s right hand to the very end of the age.
Alleluia! Christ has ascended to his throne in glory.