May 24, 2020 – Ascension Sunday (7th Sunday of Easter) – Sermon by The Rt. Rev. Donald Phillips
Let us pray. Gracious God, we thank you for your presence in this time and place and within each one of us. Help us to open our minds, our hearts, our whole lives to receive the gift of your living Word for us this day. And may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today is “Ascension Sunday.” It is the second last Sunday of the Easter season. Ascension Day was actually last Thursday – 40 days after Easter – because Luke tells in the Acts of the Apostles that the Risen Christ interacted with the disciples for 40 days. The Feast of Pentecost (which means 50) is celebrated next Sunday – 50 days after the resurrection. So therefore Ascension Day ends up being on a Thursday – 10 days before Pentecost – not because we think that the Ascension actually happened on a Thursday!
So what does the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ mean for us as Christian disciples two thousand years later? Today’s Collect Prayer tells us the primary truth – “that Christ might rule over all things as Lord.” That doesn’t mean that we necessarily understand what those things are, or how that rule shows itself. But, ultimately, the Risen Christ is Lord over every thing. This reality is what enabled those early Christians to face the challenges of this earthly life, and it is what enables us to face the challenges of our life today.
But there is much more going on here than just a reassurance of who is Lord of all of creation? In both the Acts reading and the Gospel reading Jesus tells us, “You are my witnesses.”, – not just about the resurrection but witnesses to the reality of who Jesus is and God’s continuing purpose in and through the Risen Christ.
One thing we all know. If you’re going to be a witness for someone you must know them! When you stand up as a witness for a bride or groom at their wedding, you are testifying in word and action that these people are who they say they are, and that what they are doing has integrity and virtue. You have to know them! And so we are blessed by the prayer in today’s 2nd reading from the letter to the Ephesians. It reads, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” The author then makes a fascinating statement – “with the eyes of your heart enlightened.” Of course, to the author in the 1st century, the heart was not a cardiac muscle. It was the seat of our emotions and our will. So this is not just a cognitive knowledge of the Risen Christ. It is much more fulsome.
And the author continues – that you may know 3 things:
First – “the hope to which he has called you” – the absolute immensity of being a child of God.
Secondly – “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints” – the amazing life you have been given alongside fellow disciples.
And thirdly, “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” – that we will get a grasp of what God has and will empower us to accomplish.
The author of Ephesians continues by describing what God has done in Christ – both in Jesus’ earthly life and in his Resurrection and Ascension – and wraps it up with this statement – “has made him head over all things for the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Now wait a minute! What was that about the Church? The Church is Christ’s body – completely – fully. Yes, that is precisely what the Ascension of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit accomplishes. The Church is Christ’s Body – not theoretically – or metaphorically – or theologically – but really. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be Christ’s Body – together. And every local Church (like All Saints) is a local manifestation of this.
Now it’s not as though each of us, as we found our way to All Saints parish, checked out an alphabetical listing of churches in Winnipeg and stopped at “A” for Anglican; and then stopped again at “A” for All Saints. No. The Holy Spirit called you into this community to realize and live out your relationship with and in Christ here – together. This Christian community brings your Christian faith to life and nourishes it to be Christ’s witness in the world. You and I are continuing “products” (a kind of “ripple” effect) of the Ascension and of Pentecost.
Now this may seem like an awkward message to take in while we’re all separated in our own homes by physical distance – and feeling as though we’re “All Saints” in name only. Not so! In fact, expressing our worship through “virtual closeness” should only heighten the fact that we really are inseparable – joined in Christ and to one another – eternally.
But Christ adds an important function and purpose for his Body – in the world. Have you noticed lately how much more aware we are of other people during the restrictions of this pandemic? We greet people out on walks. We thank store clerks. We praise front-line workers. We worry about the Province of Quebec and its pandemic challenges. There is a real heightened sense of “we’re in this together” – a sense of the global, human community. That sense, that realization, is a gift – because that is what God sees – not an “us and them” – only an “us.” And that is precisely what God’s purpose is for this Body of Christ in the world – to witness to the loving reality that God has shared humanity with all human flesh in the person of Jesus. And this Jesus has claimed us all and taken us with him in his Ascension as Lord of the whole created order.
And so, now, may we receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him; and may we, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, know the hope to which he has called us. Thanks be to God. Amen.