Ascension Day 2018: Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Gateshead
you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven:
help us to seek and serve you,
that we may join you at the Father’s side,
where you reign with the Spirit in glory,
now and for ever.
Collect for Ascension Day
I spent six months last year at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead. As you walk through the main hospital entrance into a light and spacious atrium your eyes are immediately drawn to a hanging wall sculpture.
The artwork is called Faith and was designed by Gateshead-based artist Joseph Hillier. The installation is modelled at over twice life size (standing straight the figure would measure almost 12 feet), weighing in at more than half a ton (83 stone). The steel sculpture is intended to bring public art into the heart of a innovative new unit which provides state-of-the-art emergency care for people in Gateshead.
As I have walked passed the sculpture many times to the lifts or to buy a welcome cup of coffee during long afternoons I began to look at the sculpture in more detail. It gradually dawned on me, to my eyes at least, that this sculpture hanging in such a high and lofty position on the atrium wall, bathed in sunshine, resembled Christ’s ascension. The resurrected and exalted Christ, is remembered today. Christ returns home to his father. Healed. Christ still with his wounded hands and feet takes all our earthly pain, our loss sickness – our humanity – into the heart of God. Rather than finding a hospital chapel to pray in, before stained glass, a cross and candlesticks, I found myself praying and sometimes singing before this sculpture – “Crown him the Lord of love, behold his hands and side, those wounds yet visible above in beauty glorified?”
But as I looked further at the sculpture I found the face of the sculpture, Christ if you like, looking down on me, and like his disciples in the Gospel accounts of the Ascension, Christ pressing me to take his message of love and compassion, of humility and service to the ends of the earth, well at least to my local church environment. A bi-focal faith perhaps? Me looking up at the wonder of the biblical event, Christ the King, the healed Christ – and yet – Christ looking down on me? Such an image reminded me of the very last book of the Bible where there’s another breath-taking and wonderful scene. It’s a dramatic picture of heaven descending and God coming down to earth. The Ascension followed by, if I can use such a word, the Descension. It’s a vision of the fusing of heaven and earth when the two worlds, once separated by sin and evil, finally become one. It’s nothing less than the answer to the Lord’s own Prayer for the earthing of heaven. The mission of Jesus is complete – heaven and earth are at last reconciled. The Kingdom has finally come. His Kingdom present here, perhaps, in the healing ministry of the Queen Elizabeth hospital?
As Christ in the sculpture looks down on the hospital, the further wonder of the Ascension I am reminded of is the promise that the Holy Spirit that will be given to the disciples. ‘Stay in the city’ says Jesus ‘until the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you.’ In one of the New Testament letters, the Ascension is likened to the triumphant return of the emperor, emblazoned with battle honours, who showers gifts on his grateful army. And pre-eminent among these gifts is the Holy Spirit, God here among us, God within us, God between us, God before and behind us, empowering us for life, for service, for mission, for art, for science, for discovery, for holiness. The Spirit opens up to us all the wonderful God-given possibilities that lie beyond our dreams or our imagining. Yes, the disciples were not the same after the Ascension. And neither can we remain unchanged by what we have seen and heard. I cannot remain unchanged by the healing gifts found in the medical teams of this wonderful hospital.
I like what the sculpture Joseph Hillier sums up in a press release when the statue was unveiled. “My intention was to use my ability as a sculptor coupled with an innovative use of contemporary technology to make a figurative work, which transforms any sense of trepidation at our approach to a hospital into wonder and excitement. I want the work to present an image of a human body which overcomes the laws of physics, to become weightless, as in a dream. The piece creates an image of humanity, surpassing the bounds of possibility to create a sense of faith in the hospital, as a place where the human body is understood and can be successfully treated.”
Ascension Day, May 2018