Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Year A 7th Easter Ascension Sunday 2020 Getting Back to Better
Year A 7th Easter Ascension Sunday 24 May 2020
Video Worship from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Getting Back to Better”
Collect: 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; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, 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.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Jesus led the disciples out of the city. In paintings it is always on overlooks like this one. And as they were looking on, he was lifted up. No one expected that.
It is not normal. None of this is. It is not normal for the Son of God to walk in our midst. It is not normal for miracles to happen everyday by the touch of a hand. It is not normal to see what love incarnate looks like, with a face and a name. It is not normal for people to go floating up into heaven.
Ascension Day was last Thursday, 40 days after Easter. This is the Sunday after, and it is called Ascension Sunday. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus in his final moments with his apostles, sitting at the Last Supper before he heads out to Gethsemane, then inappropriate Government and Religious condemnation, then Golgotha. The authorities thought that once Jesus was out of the way; they thought that things could get back to normal. We all strive to balance the equation, to find equilibrium, to recenter into the routine. We all seek Normal.
I do not know about you, but since this began I have been having a doozy of a time in my dreams. I am not sure if I remember more of them, or if I am living with the stress and uncertainty differently and this is my brain’s way of shaking off the ick of these days. But in them, the strangest things seem perfectly fine and okay. Celebrities acting like friends and running errands together, growing fields of bubble gum, chasing llamas through the church, all reasonable in these nighttime diversions. But when I wake up, and I remember what I dreamed, again, I have to ask, “How did I think that was normal?”
When I think back just a few months, I ask the same question, how did I, how did WE, think that that was Normal? Forget Normal. We cannot go back. I DO NOT WANT TO GO BACK. But once we have seen a truth, it is impossible to go back again.
As many of you have heard me talk about, in 1989 I had an opportunity to serve International Baptist Church in Hamburg, West Germany, for the last few months that there was a West Germany. Those days of living on my own, guiding people in the faith and learning how to do that, were so important and life changing. The hard part was that I still had half of college to finish. I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I wanted the rest of my life to start right now. But seminary and ministry would have to wait. And in that in-between time, there was a tension. Do I continue on the path I started, or do I just go back to the routine. Even trying to go back and make it through classes was a deep dive into confusion. I could not imagine two more years of college, then three of seminary. That seemed like forever. I could not just pretend that that life-altering nine months never happened. Now the strange thing was that my friends just did not understand. They just could not. They had stayed home. They had had normal, sequential growth. I had had exponential, explosive, throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater upheaval in my life. I could ignore it, and die inside. I could embrace it and be transformed. I was doing what I wanted to spend my life doing. I was running around in the middle of history, knocking chunks out of the Berlin Wall. An 8:15 class has a hard time competing with that.
I could choose to go back to Normal. Or, I could embrace and chase the Better.
With the Ascension, the Apostles had the same choice, they could go back to their nets, and their ledgers, their Normal day jobs, or they embrace the Better. Thankfully I chose that route, and my life has been the Better for it.
I feel like that I am at that cruxpoint again. I hear that cry in the streets these days. “We have to get back to normal!” Well not me. I do not want to go back to Normal. With the radical shift in our economy, our environment, our ethos, we have been given a huge gift if we take it. Or we could go back to Normal, and this will have all been a waste. A spotlight shone down and highlighted that the pace and the consumption of our culture is killing the planet and it is killing us. This gift was costly, expensive, and horrible for so many. As usual, the greatest burden was placed on the poor. The social inequities will be one of the first things we have to dismantle and rebuild when we slowly come out of this.
Like what Jesus was called, this is a Stumbling Block. (See Isaiah 8:14) We can claim it or curse it, but it is still there either way. We either ignore it or cling to it. There is no other choice.
Beloved, like the Disciples, let us get back to Better. Let us step up to the biblical mandate of loving God, others, and self. Let us care for those “Disenfranchised” as Howard Thurman called them. Let us Go and Share this Good News we have found with Any and All, yes even the plants, the sky, the water, the cosmos. Let us take this and be transformed by it, or we will certainly transmit the pain and grief that is holding us right now and as I said, die inside. We are still in this world, and may our Savior and our God be glorified in what we say and do. And in this, may we all be One, as Jesus prayed.
Don’t go back to Normal. Let us run to the Better. Amen