The Seventh Sunday of Easter: the Sunday after Ascension Day
12 May 2013
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven: We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless, but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
1 Samuel 12:19-24
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
The days between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost are strange ones in the life of the Church. This past Thursday we celebrated Ascension Day, that day when, forty days after the Resurrection on Easter Day, Jesus left his disciples again, withdrew from them, ascended into heaven and filled the whole of the Cosmos with his glory. This time when he left them it was not through the death of the Cross, but it was so that the risen Christ might become the Cosmic Christ. Nonetheless, it must still must have made the disciples sad and confused to have their lord and master gone from them again.
Nevertheless, we read in the Acts of the Apostles that in these days they returned to Jerusalem and met together, “constantly devoting themselves with prayer, together with certain women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Acts 1:14). They met as a company of friends and fellow “believers"”, a hundred twenty of them, Luke tells us, not just the men, but all those who had been close to Jesus. They met for prayer and reflection and to consider what they were to do next. In fact, one of the first things that they did was work together to discern who should replace for Judas among the disciples and be “allotted his share in this ministry” (1:17).
Following Luke’s account in Acts, then, we have an understanding that when Jesus left them this time, unlike the last time on that Good Friday, they knew there was work to do. They knew that there was ministry to be done and there needed to be people to do it. They may not have fully known how it would unfold, but they still understood that Jesus’ work was to be continued by them, that the work of Christ’s body was to be continued. The experience of Easter, of the Resurrection, of Jesus’ presence with them in those days, risen and glorious, must have given them the confidence to know that this time it would be different, that this time they could make plans for the future.
Today’s lessons speak clearly to what that future looks like, what the future of the cosmos will be with the Christ risen and ascended, filling all creation, what the future presided over by the Cosmic Christ will look like. They show us clearly how God never forsakes his people and how we are always called into relationship with him.
In the passage from First Samuel, we heard that the people worried that God would abandon them on account of their past deeds, even though now they are contrite and seek his aid. Samuel reassures them
Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain. For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
Samuel comforts the people with the knowledge that God never gives-up on them, that he has made us and that he loves us, and he reminds us that we must always “consider what great things he has done for [us]."” God’s great gift is his love for us, having made us in creation, he will never really leave us, never abandon us, and he calls on us never to abandon him.
Indeed, in and through all the complexities of our lives we are never separated from our redeeming creator God. We are always called into relationship him. In today’s passage from the Revelation to John we heard, “And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.” We are invited into the life of God, the life of the one who does not forsake us and we long for enduring relationship with him. These are the messages that the disciples must have recognised in those days after the Ascension: that Jesus promised always to be with them and that his presence will always be with us. His presence will always be with us because we are bound to him for ever.
This is what John the Evangelist is telling us in this morning’s Gospel:
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
Jesus in the farewell discourse from John’s Gospel prays to his father that those who love him, those who believe in him, be united with him and with the Father for ever. Jesus prays that God’s glory, which is his own glory, may also be the glory of his disciples. Jesus prays that God’s love for him may also be God's love for his friends. Indeed, Jesus seeks eternal relationship with his friends when he says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.” This oneness, this connexion was cemented in the Paschal Mystery, Jesus death and resurrection, and is lived out in these days after the Ascension.
We, too, live in the days after the Ascension. While we know the whole story, while we know what happened on Pentecost in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the founding of the church, and the sending out of that church across the whole of the know world, while we know all this, we still are living out the simple lesson the disciples knew in those hours and days after the Ascension. We are still gathering and getting on with the work of ministry. We are praying, hearing the word of God, sharing in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, and preparing ourselves for the work of ministry. We are engaging our baptismal vocation as Christians in the world and living out, enacting, our oneness with our Lord. May we all have the strength, then, in uncertain times to remember that God in Christ is nearer to us than we can possibly imagine and that we are united with him by an insoluble bond, nourished in our relationship by our participation in his very body and blood. Let this knowledge fill us with hope and courage, strength and passion to persevere in the work he has give us to do. Amen.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Easter/Ascencion Feria, 11 May 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume