Easter_

Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

St. Augustine considered the Feast of the Ascension the crown of all Christian festivals. Today we may give it an obligatory nod as we make our way liturgically from Easter to Pentecost, but we’re often not quite sure what to do with it exegetically, theologically, pastorally. The clunky literalism routinely inspired by the Luke-Acts vision of the ascension—Jesus rocketing upward into space—is not a little perplexing.

Whatever historical event lies behind the Luke-Acts narratives of Jesus’ ascension into heaven—and the fact that the two accounts differ in important ways might be a clue that a surface-literal reading is not what the author had in mind—a couple of things stand out: the centrality of worship and the reimagining of “all rule and authority and power and dominion.”
Tom Wright points out that Luke’s gospel ends, as it began, in the Temple at Jerusalem. “Worship of the living God,” Wright says, “is at the heart of Luke’s vision of the Christian life.” Jesus’ ascension into heaven, then, is not “beam me up, Scotty” science fiction, but rather that which makes possible the Church’s existence. Because Jesus is not here, the Church can be, must be—the Church is constituted as and empowered to be his worshiping, witnessing body here and now. (Douglas Farrow makes this point by insisting that the Church exists “by its mysterious union with one whose life, though lived for the world, involves a genuine break with it.”) Read more

unity

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:20-26

[Two lectionary posts this week: one for the Seventh Sunday of Easter and one for Ascension Sunday (reposted from May 2009)] 

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (John 17:20-21a).

It seems there’s not much talk of ecumenism these days—not in books, not on blogs, not even in and among churches.  Maybe that’s because forty years of dogged efforts at dialogue and mutual understanding have borne some real fruit: Calvinists are far less suspicious of Catholics than they used to be and vice versa; Methodists and Lutherans are now in full communion with one another.

Of course, the ecclesial traditions most vested in the ecumenical movement are now among those experiencing significant decline, and the growing churches—Pentecostal, non-denominational, “emergent” of this or that variety—don’t seem to place the same high premium on bridge-building and cross-over conversations. So maybe it’s too soon to say “mission accomplished” when it comes to Church unity.

Of course it is. Jesus’ prayer in this week’s Gospel reading is a stinging reminder of his Body’s continued disunity. But what can and should be said about this obstinate, obvious reality? How does one preach this familiar text in ways that signal urgency but not despair, that convey the gravity of the situation while also offering a word of hope? I have no idea. Read more

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Courage to be Whole

Jesus is in Jerusalem and he goes by the Pool of Bethesda. This pool, fed by an underground spring, is down, off of the street, and is surrounded by porticoes offering some shade and shelter. Legend said that on occasion an angel would trouble the waters of the pool and the first person into the water would be healed. Hence, the pool and the surrounding area had become the gathering place for anyone and everyone with some sort of sickness, but especially the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. All gathered watching the surface of the water for the smallest sign of the rippling of the waves. A small bubbling from the underground spring or even a slight breeze could cause a stampede of invalids trying to be the first into the water.

And Jesus asks this man lying over to one side, “Do you want to be made whole?”

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here, so thanks all the same, Jesus but I’ll just lie here.” Read more

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Apocalypse of Love

“Behold,” says the One who sits on the throne, “I make all things new.” God dwells with humanity. Tears, pain and mourning are no more. It sounds wonderful. Sign me up.

“I give you a new commandment,” says Jesus to the Eleven: “love one another…as I have loved you.” What lovely and inspiring words.

Take time, though, to read the fine print: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Loving one another hasn’t been Christianity’s strong suit, however much we talk about it.

There has never been a time in Christian history since Luke wrote Acts where the people were of one heart and mind. Christian divisions have rarely been civil. Many have been deadly. It’s not terribly persuasive to lecture others on the necessity of love when our hands drip fresh blood. Read more

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In Unity We Lift Our Song

 

John 10:22-30; Revelation 7:9-17

One of the many blessings in my life has been the gift of church music.  I grew up in a family who valued music and in a church that valued music. Because I was reared in a high steeple church, I was privileged to be exposed at a young age to string ensembles, handbell choirs, professional singers, and an organist who is a professor of organ music in a prestigious university music program.

When life took me away from home, I got to experience other kinds of church music.  I served a church in North Carolina which had a teenage show choir and a men’s quartet who sang southern gospel music.  I served a church in a small town in West Virginia whose pianist played every hymn in a gleeful, upbeat bluegrass style. I visited a Melkite church in Zababdeh in the West Bank, who sang their entire liturgy a capella. Read more