Readings for Seventh Sunday of Easter 4 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 7, 4 May 2008 Textweek

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, I Peter 5; John 17:1-11

The Ascension narrative that we read in the reading from Acts this morning provides us with a great question, in verse 11, ‘why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’ For some reason the Ascension of our Lord doesn’t get the same attention in the Anglican tradition as the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Interestingly in other traditions, other faiths if they followed our story, this would probably be the primary festival and for some in our own tradition this is the pivotal text. This is the place where movement occurs in the process of living and of being fully alive. That reading from Acts 1 provides a very common picture of the church: we come together, we stand, in other words we remain in the same place looking up toward heaven, looking for what? Many theologians and many in the church, having read fully verse 11, which goes on to say this: “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" - many will remain looking up, because they’re waiting for Jesus to come again, and so we have a whole theology of the second coming.

But if we stop and think, can we really believe that the journey, as described in the narratives of Christmas, of Easter, can we really believe that they point to a process of life where we stand in one place, gawp at the sky and expect Jesus to come again and sort the mess out? Certainly that’s not what was revealed in the Nativity scene, it’s not what was revealed on the Cross of Good Friday, it’s not what is revealed in coming forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday. If we’re going to stop and wait and look, then what’s the point of Pentecost? But there’s an alternative reading and it asks much more of us, and that is to contemplate living the narrative of the Ascension, contemplate it as ‘my narrative’ just as Christmas and Easter are ‘my narratives’. Don’t leave it in the hands of Super Jesus, come back and say ‘this is my story’. And again it’s an ask that is so much more common in the traditions of the East; it’s the focus of many faiths, to contemplate living a movement that transcends the sensate mortality of worldly existence, a movement from where I am, into the divine space, a movement into the eternal dwelling place, into the place of creation, into the womb of all Love, into the birthplace of wholeness. Contemplate that movement, that ascending of myself toward the Divine.

There was an interview on the TV this week, one of those that you turn the telly on and happen to see. I think it was with Kevin Rudd; he, or the government are introducing legislation to remove discrimination against same-sex couples. Interesting debate – it’s the secular version of the church moving to ordain women bishops. And he was asked a very simple question: ‘Why if you’re removing discrimination and the legislation seems to cover just about every legal aspect of discrimination – healthcare, welfare, ownership, inheritance - why not allow also same-sex marriages? And he had no answer; there was nothing there. It was interesting because there was a real sense that his head and his heart were very much in the right place; it’s as if ‘I’ve got this framework of removing discrimination and I find myself in that frame’, but there was one step that couldn’t be taken and that was the step into a new paradigm, into a completely new worldview. The Ascension provides us, presents us with the same dilemma. The revelations of Christmas and Easter put us into the right frame, they invite us into the right frame, but the Ascension reveals a new paradigm; it asks us from that frame to take the completely new step.

So what might we take from the readings today? First of all, maybe we should acknowledge that we can stand together and yet still see from quite different perspectives. A good example is those who believe in the Bible literally can have a worldview that’s in a very similar frame to those who’ve seen beyond a literal interpretation. Both can stand together, in fact it’s almost iconic of the Anglican church, that regardless of the frame we can stand together. However, when we look for the movement for that which will shape tomorrow, what or who will we follow? It’s all right while we remain standing, there’s no movement; you can actually stand alongside those that have a quite different perspective because we’re held in that same frame. Who are we going to invest in, what are we going to invest in when it comes to tomorrow? Are we going to follow those who want to stand in the existing paradigm, or those who are seeking to live into a new creation?

For many, believing in Jesus is the path to salvation, in fact most of us have probably been confronted on the streets of Freo at some time by someone with a flower, saying ‘Accept the name of Jesus and you will be saved’. As a word of caution about believing in Jesus as the answer to salvation: Adolf Hitler, George Bush, John Howard and Kevin Rudd would all share that same frame, all standing, usually in fear, looking toward heaven.

The second reading, I Peter 5 verse 10, ‘the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.’ The movement of Ascension is that which establishes us, makes us fully who we are. If you read the first verse of the Gospel again, John 17, verse 1, you’ll see that Jesus is put into the same frame that we’re in. He looked up to heaven, but instead of standing he spoke, he uttered himself: "Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you”. St Irenaeus picks that up and gives it back to all of us: ‘The glory of God is the human being fully alive and to be fully alive (established) is to glorify God’.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris