Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-21; John 17:20-26

Seventh Sunday of Easter 16th May Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Easter 7C 16th May 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Sunday we find the unfolding of the East End and so too the unfolding of ourselves in that critical space of being “in-between”. The East End is in between completion and consecration, and maybe the same can be said of ourselves, as we stand in-between the Feast of the Ascension (last Thursday) and the Feast of Pentecost (next Sunday). Today we find ourselves in the last Sunday of Easter, the seventh Sunday, echoing the time of creation. And we might rightfully feel disturbed by where we are. Not only has Jesus gone – so too the resurrection appearances of Jesus have now come to an end. There is an added irony - not only might we feel somewhat alone in this space, but we’ve also just read the last verses of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. It is as if we’ve finished the book!

Here we are, left standing in the space of ‘in-between’, and yet there are some delightful insights to be found in this place of disturbance, in that ‘in-between’: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Always we stand in the place between birth and death - the beginning and the end. But how often do we recognise it as the same place, the place, of the Risen, Ascended, Glorified and Returning Christ. How often do we realise that where we stand is the place of Creation - the place of belonging for all that is between the Alpha and the Omega?

Verses 18 and 19 in the same reading from Revelation contain a warning: ‘if anyone adds to them [these words], God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy…...’ The Church has usually understood this to identify the completion and the wholeness of Holy Scripture. And this has been arguably over-emphasised, as is evidenced in Article 6 of the 39 Articles of Religion (1571), which we all know off by heart, of course:
Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

But what if the writer was seeking with that warning to emphasise that fact that now you’ve read the book, there is nothing more to read. Now is the time to live the story and to find oneself fully alive in the story. We come to the end of Easter. The Ascension has also brought about the end of the resurrection and we come toward Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit. Again we might rightfully feel disturbed by where we are. I think part of the disturbance is that we do not know whether we are coming or going! And that dynamic is echoed in the reading from Revelation. Just picture the reading that we heard – the coming or going . Verse 12 says, "See, I am coming soon”. We need to picture where these voices are coming from. Christ’s voice says, "See, I am coming soon”. Verse 16 then underlines the identity of the Voice we are hearing: "It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star." No doubt this is Jesus - "See, I am coming soon”. All of a sudden in the next verse we are wrong-footed: ‘The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."’ So first of all, "See, I am coming soon” as if Jesus is coming soon to us, and now we’ve got the Voice saying, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."’, asking us to go to them.

We are called to come, to ‘share in the tree of life and in the holy city’ And then there’s another surprise: ‘All, everyone who hears say, "Come."’ Wait a moment, didn’t you just say we should come there and now we stand here and say ‘Come’? We must start questioning who is calling whom? Who is coming and who is going? No wonder there is that disturbance, no wonder we can’t quite grasp it. And yet if we enact the dynamic, we might realise that it is we who stand in the very place of Jesus. We are not here and he somewhere else, rather we stand together as one: the voice I hear is the voice within – together we stand in the place of in-between, together we stand in the place of creation. And what is more we stand there, never alone but with everyone and anyone: ‘Let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.’

In John’s gospel it is in the words of Jesus’ prayer that that same realisation is made manifest: “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." The morning star, which shines so bright, is not to be seen in the dawning of a new day; the Rising sun sheds light on all and all reflect a light that outshines the morning star. The reality that is revealed in these texts is astounding. It moves us beyond the Narrative of the Scriptures for we are the narrative. That is why no more needs be written, for we are living in the very same space as those words.

It all sounds very complex which is why I think we have he ‘Acts of the Apostles’ to read, to give us a grounded illustration of the dynamic, of that space. We get to see that abstract in the two readings, and we see an outworking and in the Acts of the Apostles we see that same dynamic in real life. Having said that, today’s reading from Acts seems to be in the style of some Hollywood swashbuckling movie. And that is probably a good way to ‘read’ it. It is almost all down to the special effects people, rather than the depth of the story, and that’s a good way to follow the process, to look at the movement, the action that holds our interest.

“One day, as we were going to the place of prayer’ - the movement is toward a place of prayer, the movement is toward a place of Divine encounter, and toward a place of thanksgiving. And that movement is then interrupted with an accusation. “We met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination.” The movement is interrupted; the interruption is dealt with and brought to an end: ‘Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.’

However, there are wider implications and another interruption – money enters the equation and the accusation changes shape. “But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe’ - new accusation, a new disturbance, a new interruption to the movement. That’s also dealt with and brought to an end. ‘The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison.’

And after all that movement and action, where do Paul and Silas find themselves? ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God’. Arguably they have arrived at where they set out to go, they have arrived at a place of prayer - albeit they reached a different and unexpected destination, they have arrived where they set out to go. And as if to underline the ‘space’ they were in: ‘Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.’

In narrative terms this illustrates the Divine initiative. Paul and Silas set out to encounter the Divine - on their way to a place of prayer they heard the call to come, and then we see the Divine (in the shape of an earthquake) comes to encounter them, as if the Divine has heard their call. Sure, it is a Hollywood version of the story, but I think it’s a narrative that we can find in our lives and in our ‘in-between’. As we stand “in-between”, as we inhabit the place between birth and death, we realise we are not called to move from one to the other, but rather we are called to realise ourselves in the place where Christ is, to know ourselves as the dynamic that shapes creation, and to rejoice in the truth that the Divine seeks us in the very same process that we seek the Divine.

We are between Easter and Pentecost, between completion and consecration.... and we are empowered to create life, in each other and in all.

Peter Humphris