30 May 2019

Homily for the Ascension 2019

You can listen here, or read below.

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; St. Luke 24:44-53
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the one day of the year that I wish I were an Anglican, so I could use the Coverdale Psalter from the old Book of Common Prayer. I love the way it translated that one verse in Psalm 47: "God is gone up with a merry noise, the Lord with the sound of the trump!"

Who is gone up? GOD. God is gone up. So you find after He ascended, after He parts from them and is carried up into heaven, the disciples "worshipped Him." They plant their faces on the ground in adoration of this man with whom they had eaten and drunk and travelled, and whom they had watched get tired and sleepy and even sleep through a hum dinger of a storm, but who could then command the winds and the waves and they instantly obeyed, this man who was nailed to a tree and dead, and yet showed Himself to them as alive forevermore, this man who IS God, Him they worship and do so with great joy, no doubt with that merry noise, as they haunt the temple (nice inclusio, St.Luke) blessing God. 

Kretzmann contrasts the meager earthly liturgy at that first ascension day service with the heavenly one. "Seven words, "while they behold, He was taken up..." There were no bells and banners on earth, but surely all the trumpets on the other side sounded as they had never sounded before...Surely the chiming golden bells of heaven sang their welcome, and angel choirs intoned the song of the throne: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength"... On the anvils of God the nails hade been forged into the scepter of a king. "He was taken up"...The angel hosts sweep to either side, leaving the way clear to the Eternal Light that no longer blinds the eyes of us who stand gazing after him... He leads a procession which comes from the ends of time and space, all the harvest of all the white fields the world has ever known, pilgrims of the night who come at last to the dawn of an everlasting day." So far Kretzmann.

They stand with their tear-stained faces staring up after him, maybe not even noticing at first the angelic messengers who were sent to earth to remind them that they need not stand staring opened mouthed at the skies. He will come again in glory, just like they saw Him go. And of course, meanwhile there is work to do. His work. My witnesses. Here, there, everywhere. 

But is there a danger of out of sight, out of mind? Maybe, but it's more apparent than real. We are always thinking about things that we are not seeing and often we are quite oblivious to what is actually before our eyes. Our minds, it seems, have eyes of their own, of course. And just like your mouth can be rattling off the words of the liturgy and your mind be working on something totally different, so your eyes can be seeing what is before them, and yet your mind scarcely registers it, because you are so occupied with what no one else there is seeing. Now, the Ascension of Jesus beyond the reception of the bright cloud, we did not get to see. I hope Kretzmann was right and the scene John sees in Revelation 5 IS the heavenly side of the story. Or something very like it. But even though He has ascended and is not longer VISIBLE, He is anything but out of mind for the disciples and for all in whom their words lodge and live and bring to life. So the collect for this day: "that we may also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him." So heavenly minded as to end up actually being of some earthly good!

"He was taken up." What does that mean? What do we confess when we say that He ascended? One thing the Church learned early was that it does NOT mean that He's no longer here and active. He's not twiddling His thumbs way up there, far, far away, waiting for the cue from the Father to get up and get the long-awaited return underway. No. Were you paying attention to how St. Luke began his second volume? "In the first book, O Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus began to do and to teach." So calling it the Acts of the Apostles was surely a misnomer. It's the ongoing acts of Ascended, Glorified Jesus, ruling all and superintending the spreading of His gospel that nets more and more worshippers, falling down before Him and blessing His Father for the love they've come to know in the Father's Son. As Luke will say repeatedly: "And the Word of the Lord grew!"

So, Ascension, Jesus, on the throne of the universe, at the Father's right, Your brother, the one who shares Your flesh and blood: He's the King of all, the Ruler of all, the Lord of all things. Right now. And nothing that you will meet in your life comes to you but from His hand. Nothing? Really? Really! How the early Christians danced in that fire! After witnessing Polycarp's martyrdom, some of his disciples wrote an account of what happened and at the very end, they penned these words: "It was the second day of the first fortnight of Xanthicus, seven days before the calends of March, when our blessed Polycarp met his martyr's death, two hours before midday on the Greater Sabbath. The official responsible for his arrest was Herod; the High Priest was Philip of Tralles; and the proconsul was Statius Quadratus—but the ruling monarch was Jesus Christ, who reigns forever and ever. To Him be ascribed all glory, honour, majesty, and an eternal throne from generation to generation. Amen." 

Folks, THEM be fightin words! The Ascension of Jesus meant that at the right of God right now and governing all things forever is the One born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to the cross, raised from the dead, and the One to whom at His appearing we all must give an account of our deeds, for He is the Judge of all. The One who has whose blood alone has covered all Your sins.

And so from the Ascension onward, the Church waits, but she doesn't wait for One who is absent to come back; the whole secret inner joy of her life is that she waits for One who is yet Present in her midst in a hidden manner and who in an equally hidden and mysterious manner rules everything. She waits for Him to Appear, and that's when the rest of the world will be let in on the secret that is the Church's inner life and hidden joy. 

God is gone up with a merry noise. The God-man. The Lord with the sound of the trump. What joy is yours today, people loved by God, as you join the merry noise of angels and archangels and the whole company of the redeemed, raising a mighty Te Deum like a trump to your Ascended King, to His holy Father, to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to whom be glory now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is something else. What a Christ!