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05/13/18 Seventh Sunday of Easter

We stand today, in between the Feast of the Ascension, occurring last Thursday, and the Feast of Pentecost, coming next Sunday. These holy days correspond to the cessation of Jesus’ risen appearances and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The texts for today are challenging. Jesus’ high priestly prayer goes on far longer than the fourteen verses in today’s gospel; four chapters in fact. Then there’s the text from Acts. One would think the disciples, what with Jesus having just been caught up into heaven and leaving them the promise of the Holy Spirit, would be filled with spiritual awe. Instead, what is recounted is a meeting. Christ ascends into the heavens and the infant church calls for a meeting, an election? But what makes this election so amazing is that the replacement for Judas is chosen by casting lots.

The disciples chose Matthias to replace Judas; reflecting the need to maintain the number twelve, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. No other successors were appointed, because soon after this they began to be killed off. And Matthias is never heard from again in scripture. In a church that lives and breathes in and through the modern world it is easy to give the Ascension the brush off. Nothing in our world goes up but satellites and the cost of gasoline. Jesus’ final hours seem more ‘real’. With the forces of darkness closing in on him in those last hours before his arrest, Jesus’ prayed that his disciples might be one. He prayed that they might be sanctified in truth. In Greek “sanctified in truth” means to be set aside to accomplish God’s purposes. For all the questions the church debates that don’t always seem to matter very much, this one matters. The truth the Ascension points to is the truth that in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, humanity is taken into God’s presence in a new way. Now on a good day that feels reassuring to me, but on a bad day the news that my humanity stands in the presence of God, through Jesus, doesn’t help very much.

When you walk down some darkened path in life, not knowing which way to turn, don’t expect a noble, indefinable, faceless, nameless, bloodless idea to take your hand. Our relationship with God comes via many ways, but mostly it comes incarnated; in bodily form. Thus, it should come as no surprise that God chose the path of Incarnation to reveal the truth of who God is to the world. This is what makes Christianity very different from other religions. Throughout the Gospel of John, as well as the entirety of the New Testament, the key question is “Who is this Jesus?”, not “What is he?” but “Who is he?” Or, as one of my theology professors said, “After the resurrection the disciples were left to ask, ‘Who was that masked man?’

 Jesus says, “The Father and I are one. If you have seen me you have seen the Father”. Whoever thinks of the Christian faith only as a system of beliefs has missed the point. Jesus did not pray that the disciples should believe a set of statements or doctrines. He prayed that they might know God, which brings us back to the Ascension. What is proclaimed in the Ascension goes far beyond science. Science was unknown in the ancient world. The end of Jesus’ risen appearances meant he was no longer confined to one historical time or place on the planet; for the Christ of God is near at all times and in all places. So we thank God for that motley band of peasant disciples who had the courage to be open to this truth. What if they had been too frightened to do so? That question can never be answered. The only question that can be answered is the question of what will we do, in the church, in our lives, with the truth God reveals to us? In these last few days of Eastertide the underlined truth is this: that the one who felt the heel of Caesar’s wrath has gone into God’s presence - for us. He is Lord, not just of the church, but of all reality, no matter who lives in the White House. So we thank God for all those who have the courage to bear witness to the truth, all those whose lives have run their course - and we pray now for the courage to run our own.


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