Homily Sunday, 7 Easter/Ascension/ May 21, 2023
Can you maybe imagine how his friends felt when Jesus – who had died a terrible death at the hands of the Romans- showed up after his Resurrection – again and again? What sort of joy and hope do you suppose this awakened in them? What do you think dinner table discussion were like during those 40 days when nobody ever knew for sure when Jesus would walk right through walls to join them – or meet them by the seashore for breakfast? And how do you think they reconciled the fact that they didn’t always recognize him standing in front of them – until he spoke, or broke bread – with the equal fact that they somehow KNEW it was the Lord?
And don’t you suppose they got used to his appearing and disappearing and expected that this is how it was going to be forever?
What sort of shock must it have been for them to hear him say he was going away? A reassurance about not leaving then orphaned would probably not have been enough to keep them from grief – and bewilderment. And then he was gone.
Today we remember Thursday’s feast – 40 days after the Resurrection – the Ascension. The Collect for that day gives us a clue about why the Ascension matters so much…why it is one of the four great yearly feasts, along with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
It says that he, “left this human plane where he had lived and taught and showed us the love of the Father, suffered and been resurrected, so that he might fill all things.”
Think about this daring statement. It isn’t said about any other religious leader in all of human history.
But we believe that Jesus is more present to the world, more present to the Church, more present to each one of us, right now than he ever was to anybody when he walked and slept and taught on the hillside, and broke bread on earth.
When we say that we “remember him in the breaking of the bread,” it isn’t what we mean when we say that we remember a great party, or our high school graduation, the death of a friend, or a disappointing election.
In those cases, we are using our powers of recall – to help us tell a story that is totally in the past, within which we still might find joy or grief, and from which we still might learn something to help us navigate the future.
But when we remember Jesus “in the breaking of the bread,” we are doing something different. We are literally re-membering: bringing into the present moment the power of a past event, so that it is truly present to us freshly, in a new way, every single time we do it.
The Lord Jesus is present to us right here, right now – and He is present also to every part of our creation at the same time.
We celebrate His very real presence among us when we eat the bread and drink the wine in communion with God and each other, in order to fix the truth of it in our hearts and minds and bodies so that we don’t forget or ignore it throughout the rest of the week.
There is now nowhere at all that is not full of the presence of the Lord Christ.
We will have more to say about that next Sunday as we celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit.
But for today, listen again to the Collect – the gathering prayer – for the 7th Sunday of Easter as we anticipate the great culminating feast of Eastertide next week – Pentecost – the eternal experience towards which the Resurrection points – the end – that is to say, the high point, the goal of Easter.
“O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before…”
God knows we need the Holy Spirit to give us both of those gifts as we contemplate the evil that seems both huge and ineradicable – and our own weakness to deal with it.
But we ask the Holy Spirit to Strengthen and exalt us – now.
This is not about going to heaven when we die.
It is a plea for God to strengthen us to do the work God has given us to do to make the kingdom of heaven more visible, more actualized right here, right now, as we do justice and love mercy .
And it is a plea to be exalted – lifted, raised, right now into the eternal realm, where we can truly see and understand and love what God loves, the power of everlasting Love, and be embraced by it right now – so that we can be joyful in hope, passionate in love, courageous in faith, and ready to welcome the strength God gives us.
And that prayer is especially appropriate to our graduating seniors.
Growing up is hard work. Learning how to be an adult isn’t easy. Nothing quite prepares anybody for that. It takes the comfort of a love greater than mine – or Becca’s, or yours – to strengthen young people so that they can stand – and to give then hope of becoming exactly who God intends them to be, however uncertainly they wobble into that future!
We aren’t leaving them – as Jesus did – but in a real sense, they are leaving us behind – and that is scary, too.
No more teachers to rely on OR to blame – no classmates to commiserate with OR to gripe about.
Adulthood is glorious. And they will discover that on their own with the strength and comfort of our collective love and the powerful love of God.
But there is grief, too, for the childhood they are leaving behind.
But here’s the thing – just as Jesus was more present to us all after his ascension – so these girls and all the graduates of high school and college will actually have more possibility to influence this world for good than they ever did in school. Let us pray that they will seize that reality and ask God for the strength and courage to enter into it, seeing how they are already known and cherished by God who has exalted them – and us – into the heavenly places – that is, into God’s own presence.