Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Canon Tony Cayless
BCP – Easter 7 C - Sunday 20 May 2007
To mark the beginning of Rosh Hashana Jews sing Psalm 47 seven times. Then they sound the shofar, the ram’s horn to welcome their new year. Psalm 47 is also used in Christian liturgies on Ascension Day to mark Jesus’ return to heaven.
Clap your hands, all you peoples:*
shout to God with a cry of joy.
God has gone up with a shout, *
the LORD with the sound of the ram's-horn.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; *
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is King of all the earth; *
sing praises with all your skill.
God reigns over the nations; *
God sits upon his holy throne.
The Nicene Creed says God the Son ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Luke writes in his Gospel: While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And in the Acts of the Apostles: as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. We celebrated this event last Thursday.
Ascension means going up. We ascend in an elevator. We ascend in an airplane. We ascend a hill. We ascend a ladder. On April 12, 1961, 46 years ago, Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 was the first person to ascend into orbit round the Earth. The flight lasted 108 minutes. Russians were delighted. Americans taken aback. The Space Age had begun in earnest. Yuri Gagarin was interviewed by the press. I lived in Barbados then. The headline on the front page of the Advocate the sole daily newspaper read: I did not see God up there - Russian Cosmonaut.
Of course we commonly use the idea of ascending, going up, in other than a literal sense. Of persons who do well for themselves we say that they have gone up in the world. Students go up into new grades: or if they haven't worked hard enough stay down. After High School many go up to college. At work we move up the corporate ladder. Jesus ascended, went up in this sense, moving to a different state of existence.
When the Word became flesh the Word accepted the limitations of human nature. Bound, as we are by space and time, the human Jesus was born, lived, ministered, and died in a particular place and at a specific time in the history of this world. The Incarnate Lord and the Risen Lord could only be in one place at one time. The ascended Lord can be at all times and in all places. Theologically reconciliation is accomplished by God putting God’s self in our place in the Incarnation: and by putting our human self in God's place at the Ascension.
Early Christians celebrated the Ascension as the crown of all Christian feasts. St. Augustine claimed that this festival confirms the grace of all the festivals of the church together. He said that without the Ascension, the reality of every festival would perish. Unless the savior had ascended into heaven, his nativity would have come to nothing and his passion would have born no fruit for us, and his most holy resurrection would have been worthless.
The Ascended Lord is at all times in all places. Jesus is present in this world. He is present in the Church. He is present in the sacraments. He is present when we pray. He is present in the other. He is present in us. Jesus is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
The period of ten days between Ascension and Pentecost is a period of waiting. For those men and women who had been attracted to Jesus, become followers of Jesus, it must have been a tense period. Waiting. Wondering. Expecting something - but What? Trying to sort out what is happening. I don't like waiting. Waiting for a train. Waiting at the airport. Waiting for the Doctor. Waiting for the Dentist. Waiting for a letter Waiting for a phone call. God so often tells us just to wait. We want to go out there and get things done. Don’t keep me waiting!
We are impatient. We share the tension of those early Christians. Though we are in the third millennium we need to remember that we still live between the times. The Ascension Event when the physical presence of Jesus was withdrawn is in the past. Jesus’ coming again is in the future when we believe God’s presence will be revealed in power and with great glory.
In this present time we have worship to offer, witness to give, and unity to strive for. We are indeed in the world but not of the world. Our world is God's world. It is the world God created and the world God loves– so much says John that he gave his only begotten Son to save it. We see a world corrupted and polluted, a world that is bent, a world twisted out of shape. And much of this has come about by human actions and human choices. But it is a world which can be and is being redeemed.
It depends on our point of view. It depends on how we look at it. It depends on our perspective.
On December 21, 1968, 39 years ago, in the spacecraft Apollo 8, Three Americans Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders were the first astronauts to orbit the moon. The mission was broadcast live. As they reached the moon and passed around the far side on the first orbit there was radio silence for some twenty minutes or so - radio waves cannot pass through the moon. Then out of the silence we heard the voice of Major Borman saying: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void. And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light, and there was light. He continued to read that dramatic creation story. An ancient myth, but a true myth.
Yuri Gagarin a materialist and an atheist did not find God up there. Frank Borman, a Christian, an Episcopalian did. One did not find God up there, because he had not found God down here. The other found God up there, because he finds God down here.
God is everywhere. We need to look and listen with eyes to see and ears to hear. The Ascension declares that Jesus is no longer limited by time and by space. The historical Jesus, like any other human being, can only be in one place at one time. The Ascended Lord can be at all times and in all places. The ascension expanded Christ's ministry from its geographically limited earthly dimensions to its universal heavenly dimensions.
In the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, part of which we read as the Gospel of Today, Jesus prays for his present and his future disciples. Jesus prays for us:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
There is a story that when Jesus arrived back in Heaven the Archangel Gabriel asked him what plans he had made to ensure that his mission would continue on earth. Jesus replied, “Well I have left my Church, Peter and James and John, Andrew and Mark, my Mother Mary, my friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, Cleopas, and Bartimaeus, Johanna, Susanna, and about a 100 others. They have been commissioned by me to proclaim my message, and to go out into all the world and make more disciples. They will carry out my mission”. “But” said the Archangel, “But what if they fail?” It is said that Jesus answered: “I have made no other arrangements.”
The Church is the Bride of Christ, the Spirit filled Body of Christ, the community of the redeemed. We are part of that Church. We have worship to offer and a witness to give. This between the times time is the age of the Church - that is those who have made a personal response to Jesus. That is us! What happens is up to us! Jesus has made no other arrangements.
See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
We are waiting for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We wait with patience for the will of God to be revealed and it will be! We have a promise. The gift is held out to us. We need to reach out and take it . . . The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
AMEN! COME LORD JESUS!