The Sunday after the Ascension + C 8, May AD 2016
The Rev Robert RM Bagwell+ All Saints’ Hampton Parish
The last words of the Bible are these: The Spirit and the bride say, "Come. And 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. The one who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Last words are often significant. The last words someone speaks before they die, or the last words of two are in love before one of them goes away for some reason. The last words before a marriage are vows. The last words before a baptism are vows. So are the last words of Holy Scripture: vows, promises of intention. Another name for the book of Revelation is Apocalypse. It is a Greek word apocalypsis means hidden. Is not the whole of God's word a book of hidden-ness, the revealing of God to humanity. So many of our theological words are about God's revelation of Himself to us. Epiphany mean manifestation. Resurrection itself is not a mere resuscitation, it is a transformation. On the Transfiguration we have a glimpse of the God behind the veil of human flesh and that same glory.
It is called the Shekinah, the same glory led the Israelites in the wilderness, that appeared to Moses on Mt Sinai, that filled the Temple at its dedication and to the shepherds in the fields on the night of Jesus' birth. It is that same glory we sing of in our Holy, Holy, Holy and call down upon the elements in the Holy Communion and upon the candidate for baptism. It is this same glory that Jesus speaks of in last Thursday's readings when he commands the disciples to return to Jerusalem and wait because I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." It is that same power that we will celebrate next Sunday. It is in that same power we pray for God to sanctify, we pray for God to bless. It is God's favor, God's holiness, God's peace. It is that same glory that received Jesus up into heaven from where he will come again with great power and glory to judge the world as w have said over and over in our creeds.
It is that same glory that Jesus prays for the Father to give us in the passage known as His great High Priestly prayer. Despite the seemingly tangled web of the English translation of this prayer, He ultimately prays for oneness. He prays for our oneness with God, with Him and with one another in this world. It is God's glory that released Paul and Silas in this morning's readings. That glory God shares with us by faith, the gift of God and the love of God that he has placed in our hearts.
The collect for the Ascension said: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things....That he might fill all things.... This Ascension that we recall each week in the creed is the commemoration of Jesus= Christ=s Lordship over all. It is the earlier celebration of Christ the King. The it is finished is now acted out in glory. This is a feast of the glory of God. The greatest glory is seen in the greatest love. That glory is the glory we speak of when we say for God so loved the world. He not speaking of the rocks and soil, but us and all whom He has made in His image. Jesus prayer is not only that we receive that love and glory, but that it is manifest in us. I don't know if any f you read Dr Caldwell's blog, the Episcopal Schism in South Carolina, but last week he wrote on why the estranged diocese should return to the Episcopal Church. His first point is a big one, although he did not say it as bluntly as I am going to, nevertheless, it is True. Schism is a sin. That is part of the reason we should pray for this reunion, as we pray for the eventual reunion of all of the divided churches. We have been graced to live in a time when most of the Church recognizes the authentic Christianity of the divided Church, when once we insisted that only OUR CHURCH, depending on which one you were a part of, is the True Church. The same glory of God, the same love of God is non-denominational. If we are born of God, we are all one. That is what the word CATHOLIC means.
God seeks to one-Himself with us. This is the filling of all things that the collect spoke of. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, immediately believers had a new relationship with God and human beings had a new potential of relationship toward God. God could become Father ! We take it so much for granted God our Father, but to the Jewish person of Jesus= day, it was no small leap. And yet that is what it redemption by God the death and resurrection of Jesus was all about. God choosing to Parent us if you will. To bring us created beings into the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
In the gospel reading, Jesus is praying for the Disciples as he is about to enter his finest hour and what does he pray for? That they may all be ONE... ONE ! ONE! Don=t you think that he might have his focus somewhere else? On something else??? Like the Passion?? But no, He asks God and inadvertently gives the remaining eleven disciples and all of us our marching orders BE ONE. Do you think he might have known we'd have a hard time doing that? Being ONE?
I was spent about eight years in my spiritual journey in a highly separatistic sect of protestant Christians. They were so separate, that if you didn't believe exactly as they did about just about everything, they suspected you might not be the genuine article a real Christian believer. I am often reminded by my colleague, in the next parish over in Massachusetts, who told me of the two Puritans in conversation when one reputedly said to the other:" ah, there is none as righteous as me and thee and sometimes I wonder about thee!" Sound like anyone we know? Maybe in South Carolina. Logically when I became an Anglican in tradition, I joined a highly separatistic Anglican body, and then another, and then another....until God said.."aren't you tired of this? And I came home even with all of her warts, the Episcopal Church has given me Church home. I know why Jesus prayed that all might be one.
One author wrote: when we focus on personalities, preferences, interpretations, styles, or methods, division always happens. But if we concentrate on loving each other and fulfilling God's purposes, harmony results.This is good for serious Christian believers to ponder because God's filling of you cannot take place in a Jesus and me only environment! God changes us as we are obedient in our following. Jesus in me touches Jesus in you and we change each other as he fills all things with himself. The church is a wounded Church as was Jesus= earthly physical body, but we are also a resurrected Church living into the new life and joy of God=s kingdom.
Why is this something we should desire? St. Augustine wrote nearly 2000 year ago: You made us for Yourself, and we will never find rest until we rest in You.@ The God-shaped void in each of us can only be filled by what it was made to hold the essence of the One in whose image we were made. It is about finding ourselves and finding ourselves in the heart of God and his heart in us. We are one if we have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but the oneness that is Jesus= goal for us is to love one another as the Father and the Son love one another. And he sent us helpBthe Holy Spirit. The heart of God is a heart of love that reaches out to us to make us a part of himself. In that and in that alone, we find all meaning, purpose and love.