So, finally, Jesus left. When he died on Good Friday the disciples were
devastated, but now he disappears into the heavens and they return to Jerusalem
with great joy and are constantly in the temple praising God. So what changed? What happened in the forty
days between Easter and now to make the disciples feel peaceful and joyful even
though Jesus was no longer with them?
Change happens in all our lives. It’s not very comfortable,
because we are a comfort seeking people and we like to get things into an
established pattern and keep it that way. But then the pattern gets disrupted
and we have to adjust. Changes can come slowly – dissatisfaction with a job can
lead eventually to a job change; a few gray hairs gradually spread until you
can’t quite remember what your hair looked like before. Or they come quickly, with
sudden bad news of death, illness or tragedy; or the unexpected announcement that
a friend is moving away. Changes can seem exciting and positive or they can
seem painful and difficult.
But change happens. We are experiencing changes as a
congregation. In fact, St. Benedict’s seems to have been in a fairly constant
state of change for most of its life. Recently we have added an organ and extra
pews. I have been called as your rector. We have started to finish the
mezzanine and the Great Room. Some long-term members of the church have moved
away, others have died or are dying, and others are planning to move. People we
are used to seeing every Sunday come less frequently now. At the same time, new
people are coming in and bringing new ideas and perspectives. It can feel destabilizing
and a little scary.
I think Jesus’ ascension must have felt destabilizing and a
little scary for the disciples yet they went back to the Jerusalem with great
joy and were constantly in the temple praising God. Why?
Because they believed Jesus’ promises. They believed that he
would be with them always. They believed that the Holy Spirit would be given to
them. They believed that he was the Messiah
and since they had had the time with him studying the Scriptures, they felt
even greater confidence. They had hope that God would be revealed to them more
and more, and that the reign of God had come.
Their hope is also our hope.
In the midst of changes - some good, some difficult – in the
midst of upheaval - we have the same hope. The hope that we will not be left
comfortless, the hope that God will continue to reveal Godself to us, the hope
that the kingdom of God is here amongst us.
This is the hope that the writer to the Ephesians was
expressing in the second reading, “I pray that…you may know what is the hope to which [God] has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is
the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the
working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised
him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far
above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that
is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all
things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Those are wonderful
and exciting words. They open up a vision of hope for us. On one level we deal
with the mundane things of being church together – we deal with our personal transformation
in deepening relationships, with pews and organs, with people leaving, and
making new friends – and at one and the
same time we can know the riches of his glorious inheritance, the immeasurable
greatness of his power and the church not as a collection of motley people
doing their best to keep it all together but as Christ’s body, the fullness of
him who fills all in all.
world seems to go on in the same old way, with little steps forward almost matched
by steps back, with the planet heading towards environmental disaster, at the
same time the reality is that the same Jesus Christ who died and was
resurrected and then ascended into heaven, is now “seated at God’s right hand
in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and
dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in
the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet.” In other words,
Our hope is that
resurrection always follows apparent disaster, that even though it often doesn’t
look that way, that Jesus the Christ has been given the power over every ruler,
every multi-national corporation, every special interest group, every political
lobby, every president, king or queen. And we are his friends. Jesus is friends
with the little people, the 99%.
So we live with a
dual awareness; we work for justice in this world yet we know that ultimately justice
has won. We work for peace, yet we know that the Prince of Peace reigns. So all
we are doing is cooperating with the will of God, working for God’s reign to be
fully manifest, not just on the inner planes but fully realized on the outer,
in the everyday mundane world of constant change.
In the everyday
world, where change is often loss.
Our hope in
Christ is that nothing is lost. Because all that is of value, all that is of
the reign of God, is eternal and everlasting. All that is of value continues,
and although people die, we remain in relationship with them in the mystical
communion of saints.
In order for the
disciples to become apostles and to go out to preach the gospel, Jesus had to
leave. While ever he was there, they were dependent on him as their teacher and
leader and their connection to God. He had to leave in order for them to step
into their power, in order for them to be able to follow their own callings.
And therein lies
our hope too. Every change, every loss, every apparent disaster can be used by
the Holy Spirit, with our cooperation, to bring new life, new hope. In order
for us to follow our own callings as the disciples, apostles and friends of
Jesus, we have to be transformed and renewed. That transformation always brings
change, and always has an element of grief for that which is no more. Our callings
are different in the different stages of life, and as we transition from one to
another it can be hard to let go of what was in order to welcome what is
coming. But our hope is always that in the new circumstances God will be
revealed to us in new and different ways.
Our hope is that
the resurrected and ascended Jesus is more powerful than all the human
institutions and all the human failings that cause us grief.
hope is that in the reign of God all things will be resolved and all things
made new. And so, like the disciples, even in the midst of grief, we can go
home rejoicing and praise God whenever we meet together.