May 20, 2007 7 Easter, After Ascension (C): Acts 16: 16-34; John 17: 20-26
The Collect of the Day addresses God as “King of glory,” and we get all this great language about strength and triumph and exaltation: which is clearly the theme of the occasion. We near the end of our journey through this Easter Season, this past Thursday, Ascension Thursday, and with the wonderful image of our St. Andrew’s Ascension Window by the great early 20th century glass artist Clara Miller Burd here in the North Transept (which with customary St. Andrew’s flexibility actually on the west side of the building)—and with Whitsunday and Pentecost just ahead, with this sense of a miraculous energy all around us, as the Empty Tomb of Easter Morning and the powerful and undeniable presence of the Risen Lord Jesus becomes not just something to observe in wonder at a distance, but instead a reality that begins to draw us in, become a part of who we are as well.
A colleague of mine has called this the “ultimate episode of Extreme Makeover.” Reaching for language: renewal, restoration, transformation. Essentially, becoming a new person—certainly beyond anything plastic surgery and a new hairstyle could accomplish. Deeper, below the surface. Looking forward to our resurrection in him, a word whose very meaning unfolds only with great mystery--resurrection--yet as well even now beginning to see that very reality of resurrection happen in us and in the world we live in, the world he died to save, the world even now in the process of being reconciled to God. The forces of the opposition try to stamp it out, hold it down. But no prison can hold it. That’s what we saw in the reading this morning. What a great picture of the truth about the Easter message. The earth shakes, the walls collapse, and the doors fly off their hinges. No prison can hold it.
And with that image in mind, that great moment in Acts and the story of Paul and Silas in prison, there is from John’s gospel a context to return and think again through that great prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us on Holy Thursday evening. Part of it included in our gospel reading. Jesus knowing that the page is about to turn, that the Cross ahead for him would mark a new chapter, and looking ahead, with care, mindful that any transformation will be filled with stress, change, opportunities and challenges, gains and losses, joys and grief. And his prayer also a kind of Last Will and Testament, a word to look forward, to sustain them, to help them understand how to live in the new world into which they are about to be born.
And here we go: what he talks about, no surprise, is love. His love for the Father, the Father’s for him, and all then to be the air they will breathe, their love for one another. A unity at once spiritual and visible. “See these Christians, how they love one another.”
Perhaps some irony in hearing those words these days, in a time when in so many ways the church, at least the wider church, seems to be less about coming together in love, and more about flying apart in conflict and even hostility. Though perhaps that would be true in any era, for any generation. Not exactly clear signals. “How they love one another.”
But at the same time, just to think about the reality of our lives, not as we read in the newspapers and the internet, but in the experience we share. All kinds of images come to mind. The gathering at the font here for Darius Malecki’s baptism last Sunday, as each of our younger children in that participated by pouring a little of the water into the basin. The great procession up the center aisle as we made our Easter Communion together just a few weeks ago. Bagpipes in the Churchyard. Jinny and Company putting out the refreshments for yet another festive reception. Cheering in the stands at our summer baseball game. Those sometimes intense and serious and sometimes just playful and fun conversations about a summer book. Our Altar Guild as they work in the hour after a Sunday service. Our acolytes. A telephone call to express concern. An hour in tenderness and prayer at the bedside of a dying friend. These just all flow together, for me, anyway, as I hope they do for you, one after another, day in and day out, year in and year out, as we live our lives together here. Friends. Christian friends. None of us with all the answers, but all of us doing the best we can right now with what we have. And with support and care. Respect, even when we think differently about things. Just plain . . . love. “See these Christians, how they love one another.” Maybe we catch a glimpse of that.
Sometimes friends ask me how things are going in the church—and I guess they’re thinking about the newspaper stories and the things they read on the internet. Which can all be pretty disconcerting. No question about that. But when I hear the question, the thing is, I just think about you. And I say, “actually, I think things are going pretty well.” We have our challenges, of course. But, pretty well. God is good. Resurrection is the reality. What’s going on, here, there, and everywhere.
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. It is a day, a season, a year, and a life-time for us to hear and know and live his glory, his strength, his exaltation. And the breathtaking privilege we have to be a part of it. Members of his body.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.