When I first got the idea for this sermon, it was not for Ascension Day. It was for a normal everyday chapel service. Luckily, it sort of fits into the message of this important day in our Christian calendar. 

If I were to ask you what the most important day in the Christian calendar is, you would probably say Christmas. With its beautiful nativity scene and cheerful hymns, it is a special time in our year. Or maybe you would say Easter. Christ’s sacrifice and victory over death are at the centre of our belief as Christians. 

I am sure that very few of you would suggest Ascension Day. But Ascension Day is incredibly important in the story of God’s relationship with mankind. Imagine you are in the province of Judea as one of the disciples. Jesus spends forty days with his disciples after his resurrection. He teaches them, opens their eyes to new understanding and then ascends into heaven, fulfilling thousands of years of promises and prophecy. As he ascends, he sends down his spirit, which fills the disciples and endows them with spiritual gifts. 

You stand there, watching the king of the heavens ascending up to sit on God’s right hand. But what then? Is that the end of the story? Of God’s story on earth?

Now BK read the last few verses in the book of Matthew. Jesus tells us that our job is to go out and make disciples of all nations. To spread the gospel. The good news. This is called the great commission. It is the start of what we call evangelism. Telling other people about Jesus. To live as he lived.  

This was not an easy task for the disciples. Many of them died doing this. It still isn’t easy. While we don’t face the same challenges that the disciples did, it isn’t easy to be a good person. To live in a way that affects change in the world around us. How do we live up to the message of the ascension and live in a way that honours God?

Okay, so now I am going to move away from Ascension Day. We’ll leave 1st century Judea and come back here to St Alban’s, but I promise it will make sense by the end of this sermon.

“Say it with chest.”

This saying comes up often here at the College. In my classroom or at my rugby practices, a boy will get ready to say something to the group, and another boy will tell him to “say it with chest”.

But what are we actually saying to one another? A direct translation might be: “Speak louder”, but it has a little more to it than that. Are we saying: “Speak powerfully” or “Speak meaningfully,” or are we saying, “speak as a person ought to speak?”

But let’s not get bogged down by trying to translate Albanian into the common tongue. Hearing this St Albanism reminded me of an essay written by C.S. Lewis entitled The Abolition of Man. It is a long and tedious read, but it is the source of this famous and poignant quote:

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

So the question we must ask ourselves, and what all men must ask themselves at some point, is, what does it mean to be a “man with chest”?

I know how most of you will answer. You are imagining the guy with a 50-inch chest who walks into the gym and warms up with three wheels on the bar. The guy who does incline flys with the weight you chest press. The guy who dry scoops pre-workout in the parking lot and then screams at himself in the changing room mirror for fifteen minutes. The guy who posts shirtless images of himself with quotes about being an alpha or about not quitting until you achieve greatness but then has to hold his breath when he ties his shoelaces. Is that a man with chest?

Unfortunately, no, that guy isn’t. Neither are people who use power to mistreat others. Or men who put their careers before their families. Neither are men who measure their worth by how many women they have had intimate relationships with. Or men who sneer at the achievements of others without ever stepping into the arena themselves. 

Unfortunately, our society provides many examples of men without chest. We try to use money, power and violence to prove we have chests, only to be found out as traitors who have no virtue.

So what should we mean when we say “speak with chest”?  And what does it have to do with Ascension Day?

When Lewis speaks about men with chests, he doesn’t mean the macho. For him, men without chests are “men without real feeling. Men without spiritedness, without thumos, without heart”.

So to have chest is then, to be able to feel. To be spirited, and compassionate. To have heart. Your chest is your centre. It controls and guides impulse and reason. 

The Bible is filled with men who have chests. Sometimes we get this wrong. We see the children’s Bible pictures of little baby Moses in the bullrushes, of David carefully tending sheep or of Jesus surrounded by little children with an angelic halo around him. These only tell one side of the story.

These are people who had an incredible capacity for real feeling. They were spirited. They had heart. They had an intimate relationship with God and used that to make a difference in the story of the world. 

Abraham offers to give up everything. Jacob wrestles all night with an angel. Moses confronts Pharoah. David faces Goliath. St Paul squares off with the might of Rome to spread the gospel and the disciples give their lives spreading the good news around the world. 

And then we have the Lord himself. The Lion of Judah who meets with Death and defeats him for us. A man with chest. One who comes into the world to teach us the power of sacrifice and love. Sometimes we forget, when we call him the Lamb of God, that he was a man who opposed Kings and Scholars. Who calmed storms. Who dismissed disease. Who spoke in front of thousands. He is passionate and loved and cared and showed emotion. And, today especially, that he ascended into heaven to fulfil the promise and ensure our justification. 

Our school’s mission is to prepare young men for life. To make sure that you have chest. So that you can be young men who can go out into the world and make a meaningful difference in the way that Christ asked us to 2000 years ago before he ascended into heaven.

But it is not chest in the way you think it is, and it really isn’t chest in the way the rest of the world will tell you it is. 

The disciples were also confused. Before Jesus leaves his disciples, Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 

He did not know what to do. How to live. What the Ascension meant. A little bit like us. 

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 

So, this Ascension Day, let’s try to live in a way that honours Christ’s instructions before the ascension. His fulfilment of the promise means that we have his spirit and everlasting life. He expects us to live in a way that makes the world better as we spread the gospel. Let’s try to do that as people with spiritedness, love and compassion. As people with chest.

Chapel Warden