Sunday, May 24, 2009

After the Ascension

In the name of God, merciful Father, compassionate Son, spirit of wisdom.

“That they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11) That is Jesus’ prayer.

That prayer is part of what Jesus asked of his Father just before he led his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night he was betrayed.

Jesus knew he was leaving – for a while – and he knew it was going to be hard for his disciples to bear. He compared it to the pains of childbirth. Not the pains of an injury or illness, but a productive travail, because he knew that on the other side of death he would be raised – and they would be comforted. He knew – again – that someday he would ascend into heaven, and that the Holy Comforter – the Spirit of God – would come to them.

He was preparing them for what they were going to face, as a community.

Jesus prayed, for the sake of his disciples, that they might be one.

He knew it would be hard.

He knew it was the gift of God.

And he prayed it knowing that this would bring them joy.

Joy comes in the morning, as the psalmist said; rejoicing comes with the beginning of a new day, God’s day. Joy comes when the darkness is dispelled. It comes when the light of God illuminates us.

And this is what that light reveals: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life. Believe in the name of the Son of God, and be confident that in putting your faith in him you have eternal life.

Jesus, after his suffering, made himself known to the apostles whom he had chosen. He spent forty days with them, which we remember in the first forty days after Easter. During that time he was with them he continued his teaching, speaking with them, as always, of the kingdom of God. Then he told them to expect the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

This was the living water – the water in which they would be brought through the Red Sea of the time of expectation into the Promised Land of eternal life.

The time of expectation, and of travail, is not over yet. It ends only when God has established the reign of peace, of shalom, on earth as it is in heaven.

We barely know what it is going to look like!

We do have some clues.

We know that in the kingdom of God we are all brother and sisters. We are all the children of God, and beloved of God.

We bear each other’s burdens, share each other’s sorrows, and celebrate each other’s joys.

We come together, for a funeral or a wedding or a baptism or a book group or a newsletter-folding party, in the knowledge of God’s love for us.

We come together as a people with a purpose, and a people with a promise.

The purpose is to become witnesses to his resurrection – and to show that reality in our words and in our deeds.

The promise is that the resurrection of Jesus is just the first fruits of the resurrection, that God’s kingdom means new life for us all.

In that kingdom, in that promise, in that purpose, we are one.

That we may be one as he and his heavenly Father are one, Jesus asks for God’s protection on his disciples. “Protect them in your name.”

When he prayed this prayer, he knew that he would not be on the scene any longer to guard them as he had.

So that our joy may be made complete, he prayed for us.

And he sent us into the world, as God had sent him into the world.

Not that the world might be condemned, but that it might be saved.

His journey, his long uphill climb to Jerusalem, was more than a pilgrimage; it was a sacrificial journey. It was like the voyage of Abraham and his son to the mountain where they offered their obedience to God. It was like the path that the people of Israel trod when they set out for the land of promise, stepping out in faith that God would guide them there. It was like the highway in the wilderness they made returning from exile, rejoicing in a future with hope. It was like the road we travel when we walk with Christ.

And so our task – our joy – is to make complete the journey that Jesus began with his disciples long ago, on the road to Jerusalem. There he completed his ‘exodus’ in his glorious Ascension – and there he gave his disciples (that’s us) the commission to continue his work in the world, to go forth in the power of his promise and the presence of the Living God, joy in our hearts.

In the summer months we will be exploring how God’s kingdom of peace – the fulfillment of the promise of his presence – comes into being and what it means to have Christ’s joy made complete in us, to live in the joy of Christ.

Eternal God, the king of glory, you have exalted your only Son with great triumph to be Lord of all: leave us not comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, that we may labor for the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

May 24, 2009

The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:3-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

Collect for the Sunday after Ascension Day from A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Great adventures begin on Pentecost

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table / newly re-told out of the old romances by Roger Lancelyn Green ; and illustrated by Lotte Reiniger (Penguin Books, 1953), the first 'real' book I ever owned, contains many stories of the wonderful adventures of the mythical days of Camelot.

On the first day of the Round Table, King Arthur bestowed the Order of Chivalry, and adjured all his knights to return to Camelot every year upon the feast of Pentecost to swear their oath anew. Then all would take their places together at the Round Table.

Arthur swore, however, he would not eat that day until some quest or some adventure had come to them - and many did. It became as well the custom of the knights, as they came to the Table each year, to tell of their deeds and their adventures since the last gathering.

And so it was that great adventures began on Pentecost - the Quest of the White Hart, the first Quest of Sir Launcelot, the adventure of Sir Gareth, or The Knight of the Kitchen, and, ultimately, the Quest of the Holy Grail. And so it was that each year as they took their places the members of that great fellowship would recount to one another deeds of knightly daring, acts of courteous chivalry, and journeys of amazed remembrance.

The knights, it seems, like the disciples in the upper room, gathered together expectantly, awaiting something beyond ordinary mortal anticipation, and their wait was rewarded.

There is a hymn in our hymnal, #463/464, based on a poem of W. H. Auden, which I have quoted before in this space. It begins:

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures. ...

The adventures that begin on Pentecost are not just in fairy tales. Through all the ages of the Christian story God’s people have been embarked on an amazing adventure together.

Like the people of Israel, called out of Egypt, crossing Sinai into the Promised Land, or called home again from exile in Babylon to return to that land of promise, God’s people of the new covenant with God in Christ find themselves on a journey.

The beginning and end of that journey, like any true pilgrimage, like in the one who is both Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, of our lives: Christ the living son of God.

Each of us has a part in that great journey of faith, of God’s people, and each of us is on a journey of our own. From the beginning of our life of faith through to its completion, we are following Christ, and finding along the way that we see more than we can tell – but we gladly return to the Table, the Lord’s Table, every Pentecost, every Christmas, every Sunday, bringing with us tales of experiences that are rare indeed, uniquely ours, but sharing in common the calling and the faith and the fellowship that we find together.

Pentecost brings with it the bestowing of rare gifts – each unique, but each a part of the one great gift of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the holy Breath (Hebrew: ruach) of God upon his disciples. Every gift and each equips us for the great adventure. And so, blessed by God, we go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

From the Rector's Study
For the Gospel Grapevine, May 2009