Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Rev. John M. Hayes
Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14;5:6-11, John 17:1-11
The poet T.S. Elliott wrote “humans cannot bear too much reality”
Today we observe the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. We’ve all seen those Sunday school pictures and stained glass windows of resurrected Jesus taking off to the heavens and his astonished apostles looking up as he takes his leave. Up up and away. Such images now seem as improbable and even quaint and perhaps make the ascension an easy reality to dismiss as a mythological curiosity we could more easily live with.
Of course for the ancients rising was their most natural way to express what they experienced when Jesus departed his earthly companions. But they well understood heaven is a different relational reality not a distant place. For us a more apt spatial image might be that Jesus goes into the depths of God’s reality.
The Ascension is the culmination and completion of the Resurrection: Christ crucified is risen from the dead, and after brief appearances in his resurrected body now is taken into the fullness of God’s reality. The circle is closed. Humanity and divinity are now forever fused, heaven and earth forever joined in the person of Jesus. Perhaps the full realization of that reality and its implications is too much reality to bear.
That all this doesn’t make sense should not surprise us. The disciples lived with Jesus on intimate terms for two or three years, and after all his clear and direct warning about his fate they are shocked by the crucifixion and in the complete dark about the meaning of the resurrection. Jesus is with them another forty days after and still they are only slightly less clueless about the meaning of Jesus and his mission for humanity. We can be forgiven for being a bit dim ourselves.
The new reality that is almost too much to bear is this. We are made for new life, life as God intended, life together in a world where we are finally free of the eons of the exploitation, oppression, war and racism that characterize too much human life.
In John’s gospel this morning, Jesus tells them ‘I came so that you might have eternal life/ zoe aionos’. We might think as many do – great Jesus died for our sins so we can go to heaven when we die. If you think that’s what Jesus means, listen to the next sentence: “Father, this is eternal life that they may know you, the only and true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
To know Jesus is to know God. That is “know” in the biblical sense – know with our heart and mind and all that we are. And there is only one way we acquire this knowing: by the Holy Spirit that dwells in the depths of every human heart. On our own we are lost to our own sinfulness. In Jesus, humanity has entered the Godhead; every human being has within a spark of God’s presence and life. Our fates are joined – God is with us, for us eternally.
God draws us to know God not so much that we can have a beautiful mystical experience and get all blissed out. Those moments happen and they are beautiful and graced; they come and they go. They convince our dull self-centered selves of the reality of God and the immediacy of God’s presence. But that kind of thing is meant to get our attention and open our hearts to the difficult to bear reality that we live in God and God lives in us.
Jesus is no sooner gone up, up and away, when the disciples are admonished by two angels: ‘Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” You have work to do, get busy now.
To know Jesus is to know God. To know Jesus is to know God at work in this still wicked and broken world that stills longs for God’s approach, that pines for the day of God’s kingdom realized when justice and peace finally reign and every human cry and tear wept finds its resolution and meaning.
We share the ancient Jewish belief that there are two ages; our present time of exile and the promised day of God’s kingdom when God’s rule finally and fully extends to human life. God in Jesus came to join us in this age to initiate the breaking in of God’s rule.
Jesus ascends not to a distant unreachable dimension. Jesus ascends and now is present and alive everywhere. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says “Split a block of wood and there I am.” Jesus is present and alive in his people, in the church. And he has work for us to do.
God uses us to remake humanity very much in need of healing and repair. God uses each of us in a unique way to extend God’s rule to this wicked broken world. In the reading of the first epistle of Peter we are reminded that if we are true to our calling we need to be prepared to suffer as Christ suffered.
Like the disciples we don’t need to look to the heavens. That’s not where God is at and that’s not where Jesus comes from. Let us look into the depths of our own hearts and look to each other to know the almost unbearable reality that the indwelling Spirit of Jesus is real and alive and each of us has a job to do to make Jesus real and alive in this world.
To him be the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.