Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Easter: After The Ascension

  Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26; John 17: 6-19

Good morning, and grace and peace to you on this Seventh Easter Sunday, the Sunday after The Ascension, and very much as we hear in the propers for today--the Collect of the Day and the Readings from scripture appointed for us--very much the Sunday before Whitsunday, the Sunday before Pentecost—as we seem to be leaning forward now to that great conclusion and emphatic exclamation point for Easter.  

And not actually a conclusion at all but the fullness of the beginning, the doors swinging wide open.  The Empty Tomb, the Risen Lord lifted up and taking his place on the Great Throne of the Kingdom. 

An anticipation of Trinity Sunday then also.  The fullness of the Father in the Son, the fullness of the Son in the Father, the fullness of the Father and the Son in the fresh presence of the Holy Spirit now sweeping through and in and over his glorified Body the Church.  In this wonderful language of St. John, as Jesus prays “all mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”  And the famous prayer, ut unim sint in the Latin, “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

This is not about a group of relics and remnants, the lost, the left-behind.  Closed in on themselves, separated from the world and waiting in fear, hope against hope, for some pie-in-the-sky future, for cosmic rescue.  Instead a band of witnesses who know deep down and through and through that the prayer  has now been answered.  The prayer, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

That the message of Gabriel to Mary and of the Angelic Choir to the Shepherds on the hills outside the little town of Bethlehem has come to pass, “for unto you is born this day in the City of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  

All in: Good Friday and Easter, every day they walked with him among the villages of the Galilee, and then in the Upper Room, where he showed himself to them, and on the Road to Emmaus, and on the Mountain Top, as he was lifted from their sight into the heavens, and on the morning of Pentecost, as the Spirit rested over them with a living flame, and as they poured out into the streets to announce the good news. 

The Sunday after the Ascension, and King Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and the great chorus even now of apostles and prophets and martyrs in multitudes beyond number stand and sing, “Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.  Glory be to thee O Lord most high.”

The Sunday after the Ascension.

I was struck in reading the first lesson this morning from the first chapter of Acts.  As we have referenced this passage quite frequently over the past year or so and sometimes with a smile as a part of the Biblical context for the process that we have just concluded with the election of our new bishop.

Now I want to say first that I have nothing but the highest degree of respect and affection for my friends on the Standing Committee of our diocese, as we almost two years ago heard from Bishop Price that he would be retiring after the General Convention in 2012—and as we from that time forward took the Canons of our Episcopal Church and of our Diocese and began to develop the plans we would need to make for the season ahead.  Appointing committees, developing timelines and budgets, gathering the wisdom of those who had been through this experience before, consulting with leadership both within and beyond the diocese, creating ground rules, processes, frameworks, hiring consultants.  All of which winding its way toward the conclusion of the creation of a ballot, and then the organization of a special diocesan convention, as we completed that task just a month ago.  And then even following the election, the work of the transition, in all its complexity.

Again, my highest affirmation and appreciation for the work of all those involved, and noting especially the work of our own Mary Roehrich, whom I served with on Standing Committee as this all was designed, and of Joan Morris and Phil Wainwright, who served on the Nominations Committee, and Jill West and George Knight and Mary Roehrich now also, on the Transition Committee, and many others who have been involved or who will be involved.

And with all this, hovering in the background, of course, this very different process of the discernment and selection of Matthias to take the place of Judas among the 12 apostles.  “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,” one of those whom we know and trust, who has known Jesus personally and well and deeply, “one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  Which is the job description of the apostle there.  To give testimony as a witness, to proclaim the good news not just as reported, but from personal conviction and knowledge and life experience.  And they see two before them who fit the profile well, “and they cast lots for them.”  Flip a coin.  Pull a name out of a hat.

Not because they don’t care who is chosen.  Not necessarily because they know that either would be fine in the ministry.  But because they know and feel with absolute assurance that God is in charge,  that the Spirit is in the room and in the world with power and authority and real force.  It may look like random chance, but they knew different.  They knew that God had already chosen, and that all they needed to do was to open their eyes, and that he would reveal that choice to them.

I had the opportunity this past week to preach over at Calvary Church at Evensong, as our choir was invited to join Calvary’s choir and with the choir from the Church of the Redeemer also.  And such a beautiful service.  And in the sermon I told the story as I have shared before here at St. Andrew’s also of how one day back in the 1970’s I saw someone reading the magazine called “Acts 29.”  And how I wondered what that referred to, and went home and checked my Bible, and was for a brief moment confused to see that there were only 28 chapters in Acts.  And then the lightbulb.  Acts 29 is what comes after.  Acts 29 is us.  An invitation to see ourselves and our lives in continuity with the lives of those first Easter and Pentecost Christians.  Certainly this is a way to think about Jesus and his prayer in John,  that we would all be one not only with our fellow Christians today.  But one across all the miles and generations, from the Galilee to Jerusalem, with St. Paul across Turkey and Greece and all the way to Rome, and year after year, to this time and to this place.  Peter and James and John, Mary Magdalen, Paul and Barnabas, Lydia, Mark, John the Divine.  You and I, all of us.

In 2012 the canons of the Episcopal Church didn’t let us pick our bishop’s  name out of a hat, though that would certainly have been a kindness to the diocesan budget!--and on Pentecost Sunday the friends of Jesus weren’t worried about how to put an elevator in the parish house or to order the next season’s Sunday School curriculum.  Things change, outwardly.  

But the message of this Sunday as we have our hearts filled by Easter and lean forward to Pentecost in the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior is that in Christ there is one.  One Church now and ever, one Body, one Spirit.  One hope in God’s call to us.  Holy Spirit active, alive, with us.  The risen Christ ruling heaven and earth.  That the meal we share in obedience to our Lord’s command and in love for him and for one another is a sign of our incorporation.  A prayer for forgiveness as we have willfully separated ourselves from the Body, and in our repentance a word of sacramental absolution in his Body and Blood, heavenly food and drink.  That he might live in us, and we in him.

An amusing exchange on Facebook this week between those few of us who express affection for the old Church Calendar and the greater majority who have grown to love the new calendar.  When does “Easter” end?  On the 40th Day, and we extinguish the Paschal Candle after the gospel lesson at Holy Communion on Ascension Thursday?  Or on the 50th Day, Whitsunday, Pentecost?  A silly conversation and probably an indication that some people have too much time on their hands.  But the word that we would carry with us to the Table and then out into the wide world of our lives is that it’s all Easter now, and in him always will be. 

His is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty.  For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is his.  His is the kingdom, and he is exalted as head before all.  

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