Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sunday After Ascension 2011

          Because Jesus ascended we can pray, we have victory, we have hope.  We can pray because Jesus, ascended to heaven, prays for us and with us to God the Father. We are not defeated by the power of sin and death; we have the victory in Jesus ascended to heaven. And we have sure and certain hope because  “Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." 

            If every day is a little Christmas because Jesus is God incarnate, fully God, fully human; if every day is a little Easter because Jesus was dead and is alive again; if every day is a little Pentecost because Jesus continues to give us his Holy Spirit, then every day is a little Ascension because Jesus, ascended to heaven to the right hand of the Father makes intercession for us.

          It is sad but true that for many the Ascension brings to mind on the few occasions we think about it the Tiffany glass window of Jesus in billowing robes floating in the air both feet well off the ground going up never to be seen again. I think that is bad art and I know it teaches bad theology.

          The Ascension, no less that Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost is both a real and a sumbolic statement of truth. The truth of Christmas is the Incarnation God coming to us in human flesh. The truth of Easter is the Resurrection Jesus dead on the cross for our sins and risen from the dead that we may live eternally in him. The truth of Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit God dwelling in our hearts by faith to teach us the truth of God’s will and to give us the supernatural power to do  God’s will in our lives. The truth of the Ascension is that in Jesus humanity is included in God.

          What are the only man made things in heaven? They are the wounds in the hands and feet and side of Jesus, Jesus who was crucified and resurrected and ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.

          He sits down in victory. By his death and resurrection the power of sin and death is forever defeated. Professor C.S. Lewis used to say that the war is won and we are part of the mopping up operation. The victory came from many causes but one cause is prayer. People under oppression pray for freedom, and the ascended Jesus presents those prayers to the Father.

          Did you ever wonder why most of the collects end “through Jesus Christ our Lord?” It is because the ascended Jesus joins in our prayers, and our prayers join in his prayers. He prays for us as we pray for one another. We are joined in prayer, and as we join in prayer our divisions and separations cease; we are united in God as Jesus prays in the last words of today’s Gospel, “Holy Father . . . that they may be one, as we are one." 

          The Ascension marked for the Apostles the end of the physical presence of the resurrected Jesus.  “As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” But in the physical absence they found a deeper spiritual presence.

          That is true in our experience. Garrison Kellior said of his parents, “I don’t have to call you; I hear you in my head.” We all hear our parents in our heads. Sometimes we hear the critical parent calling us names, but more lastingly I think we hear the nurturing, loving parent with words of praise and support and love, “You’re doing good; keep it up; you can make it.” I remember a 7th grade student telling me that on the difficult part of a ropes course he heard his father’s voice reading from The Little Engine That Could, “I think I can;  I think I can;  I think I can;  I think I can.” The ascended Jesus speaks to us in hard times; we hear his voice by his Holy Spirit.

          Our experience of friends is another example. We go to a camp in Maine at the end of August and as we make arrangements to visit them we think more of friends we haven’t seen in a while. The final coming of Jesus will be like that. (I say final coming because Jesus has come to be really and spiritually present with us in the Eucharist today, in our hearts by faith, joining us in prayer.”)    

“As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." 

          Dean Henry Alford of Canterbury sums it up in a hymn written in 1867 and sung at his funeral four years later:

Ten thousand times ten thousand in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light;
’Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.

What rush of alleluias fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation and all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes a thousand-fold repaid!

O then what raptured greetings on Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle, that brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.

Bring near Thy great salvation, Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of Thine elect, then take Thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations, Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heaven Thy promised sign; Thou Prince and Savior, come.

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