Friends, each year when we come to this last Sunday of Easter; I have made it my practice to include in our reflection of the day, Ascension Thursday, which precedes it and for which we usually don’t meet. The Church gives us the option of celebrating either the feast of the Ascension or the 7th Sunday of Easter on this weekend; so I thought it might be good to blend the two as there is wealth in both considerations. All the events/the mysteries of this entire season are a whole piece of cloth, as it were, and intended to once again convey that we are mightily loved by our God. Our readings then today, as a result, are a blend of both feasts. Also, parts of the homily are similar thoughts from three years ago as I couldn’t find a way to say differently or better perhaps some of what I will share here today.
When we think back through the events of this Church Year begun in Advent with our preparation for the birth of Jesus, the Christ, into our world; we realize that this fact is a wonder and a blessing in itself. That God would want so much to be close to all of creation that Jesus would choose to be one of us, is an event we simply cannot wrap our minds around, and that is because it is a matter of the heart.
Going a step further, I would add the thought from Ilia Delio in her book, The Emergent Christ, and I paraphrase, that God would really do no less than become one of us, because that is the very essence of God—an entity that needs, “to bubble over,” she says, into creation—our God can do no less!
This initial action of breaking into our humanity, followed by Jesus’ life among us, the hidden years growing in wisdom and grace until he was fully prepared to begin his public life, proclaiming one wonderful and beautiful day in his home town of Nazareth that he was the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words—that he had come to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those held captive in their minds, hearts, and bodies, to bring sight to the blind and set those downtrodden, free, is over-the-top love in my estimation! His teaching and healing among us challenged the powers-that-be—to bring justice for all. Lust for power and ignorance took Jesus’ physical life in a most cruel way on a Friday that has ever since been called, good. And we know that it didn’t end there.
Jesus rose and as a result, so shall we one day! It is all mystery and again, we can only attempt to get our minds around it—we would do better if we laid this mystery on our hearts. It is definitely a walk in faith and trust and even though, I have no way of knowing for sure—I believe that it will happen!—that this life is not the end.
Often my friends, what life brings causes me to lay these things on my heart because I cannot understand why something happens and these things are a walk in faith, that I haven’t totally found the answer for as yet. Sometimes I understand why something happens and I know if life is to go on, I must let go of what I know for a greater good. In each case, the things that I can’t understand and those that I can, yet still hard, it made most sense to lay these issues on my heart and to ask Jesus to help me carry what was difficult to carry alone.
Three years ago, Robert and I were experiencing the bitter-sweet joy of our daughter, Eryn relocating to Kansas City to be with the love of her life and to start a new phase together. It helped that Adam had promised to love and cherish her always! Since then, as you all know, their love has grown and produced, Elliot, a great joy that grew out of the first bitter-sweet joy.
In the three years since I put down some of these thoughts, several of our community here, have lost spouses—a life transition that no one prepares us for—a transition that we must simply walk through—a transition that we might be able to understand intellectually, but one that takes our hearts a while to catch up with.
Friends, we all experience times in our lives that cause us to ponder and to reflect on the meaning of life—each of us is called to faith, to trust and to a love that is bigger than our own needs. Having Jesus as our brother, one who has shown us the way, certainly helps.
So, where does that leave us? Jesus has completed his earthly work among his apostles—his friends, and returns to his loving, Abba God. A mystery that again is hard to fathom. Who is Abba God? And where does this Awesome God reside? People used to believe that we lived in a 3-tiered, heaven—earth—hell complex. So, if we went “up” as the scripture says—far enough, we could find God. Or if we went down far enough; we could find where the devil resides. Modern science tells us that this in fact is not the case—heaven is indeed not a place, but perhaps a different dimension and most of us probably don’t care to know what “hell” is to say nothing of where it is. We know instinctively as we have pondered the scriptures of the Easter Season that we want to be, like those first apostles, where Jesus is. Only death can show us that special existence, but still our human minds think about it and want to know.
But like the Apostles, we have work to do—a commission to fulfill and we must be on with it! From Jesus’ ascension onward—those apostles and now, all of us, are the body of Christ. They and we, were, and are, commissioned to proclaim the good news—we all must drive out the demons of doubt and despair, loneliness and pain where we find them; we all must embrace everyone with the merciful love of God. We all must stand as the answer to the question, “Where did Jesus go?”
I am hoping in my retirement to spend a more concerted effort and perhaps, “effort” is not the right word—maybe to simply be more, aware and conscious, that Jesus is all around me, in each of you, in the ups and downs of life, in creation—of all kinds—in the playfulness of the young, in the wisdom and reflection of the elderly.
The 7th and final Sunday of Easter tells us how to be about this awesome task—figuring out where Jesus went and it is an answer that we have heard before and will hear again—simply put, we are to love as Jesus loved—when we do that, we answer the question, “Where did Jesus go? He is here with us when we love, when we witness others loving—Jesus present, among us—simple as that!
And we know that this is not always easy, especially when we experience down-turns in our lives, when people we love die—when people get sick—good people, and we just don’t understand why. When people we associate with, disagree with us, don’t see the whole picture and we just don’t know how to work around and through the seeming impasse. Even the separations that are ultimately good and necessary to bring further growth are not always easy. We are at in-between times like the Apostles in the readings today, when life’s path isn’t smooth. Those of you who have lost life- partners certainly know this. Those first followers and friends of Jesus didn’t know what having the Spirit in their lives would be like. We, on the other hand, do already know that the Spirit of our loving God is always with us, to be our strength, our hope, our determination. Hopefully we remember in our times of struggle to call on Jesus’ Spirit for the strength and guidance that we need. The Spirit of Jesus will never leave us—it was his gift to us before physically departing the earth—“I will be with you all days.” We must remember that even though Jesus has physically left us, he is still with us!
So my friends, as we prepare this next week for the feast of Pentecost, let us think back to that first time that God’s Spirit came upon each of us and we were confirmed in our faith—let us recall the fervor we felt at that time to be Jesus in our world. For me, it was when I was in the 6th grade—earlier than it is done today, but I recall it as a special day of commitment and feeling that the Spirit would always be with me to help me follow Jesus more fully. Let us be refreshed in the knowledge that we are never alone in our sorrows, or our joys—that our loving God is with us—cries with us, understands our pain and rejoices in all the good that our lives bring us. And let us recommit ourselves to following our brother, Jesus, in a world that so desperately needs what he brings.