Seventh Sunday in Easter- Deacon Gill- May 28, 2017

Easter 7

May 28, 2017

From the way that the stories develop in the gospels we know that the Christians who were writing them a generation after the death of Jesus were doing so from oral memory. Oral tradition develops as the community looks for a re-creation of memory in community life and they are finally written down to communicate from one community to the other. The stories and reports are passed down verbally through followers from witnesses. For the group of people who knew Jesus and had witnessed his crucifixion it must have been a rather stark and traumatic period of time in the weeks afterwards. Many of their initial hopes and expectations had been dashed. All of this talk of the kingdom of God arriving soon seemed to be shattered with his death.

We have to imagine the followers of Jesus getting together after the Resurrection and sharing their memories. Maybe it was the memory of something he actually said or maybe it was a glimpse of an image that they had of him. Isn’t that exactly what we do today when we lose a loved one…..we reminisce about our connections and times with the person. The followers of Jesus will then tell the story of who he was from the experience of what he became through his death and through the story of his resurrection and his ascension.

Many times we celebrate the major feasts of the church with hindsight especially the feast days of saints. Today is the Sunday after the Ascension. The Ascension is probably not the best known of the feast days on the calendar, but it is one that takes on greater importance the more you think about it and experience it.

The Ascension of Jesus is the departure of Christ from Earth into the presence of God. The first thing to get clear about the Ascension is that it is about God. It is not about the physical location of heaven. It is about God. The Ascension changed who God is. The well-known narrative takes place 40 days after the Resurrection. It is always on a Thursday.

Luke tells us in Acts that the disciples stood on a hillside and watched in amazement as their teacher, their mentor, their leader, Jesus, disappeared into the clouds. He is taken up in their sight after warning them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit and as he ascends a cloud hides him from their view, and two men in white appear to tell them that he will return “in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

In the Christian tradition when we say the  creeds and confessional statements, the ascension is connected with the exaltation of Jesus, meaning that through his ascension Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty”. The Ascension is an important theme in Christian art, the ascending Jesus often shown blessing an earthly group below him to signify that he blesses the entire Church.

Jesus had spent the 40 days since the Resurrection teaching his disciples. They had been raw, vulnerable people, still frightened from the events of the previous few weeks. This final appearance and then disappearance must have felt like post-traumatic stress. Think back over the preceding 3 years of his life and you will notice that the chosen 12, the disciples, did not always get along together, acknowledge knowing Jesus or even believe what he said. They were an argumentative lot. Now they were changed.

The kingdom which Jesus talked about was difficult to understand. Yes they understood about Rome and they wanted their freedom from Rome with Jesus as their king. But the kingdom Jesus taught about was a spiritual kingdom. The kingdom he preached about was to be in the hearts and minds of his followers. Gradually the disciples understood and came to know what their role would be.

It was important that the disciples and the close followers had actually witnessed Jesus being taken into heaven. Now the stories they would tell would carry weight as they spread the word. And immediately after the ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem and there they stayed devoting themselves to prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them and to baptize them. In times of deepest insecurity this practice of returning to a familiar, centering space is typical and later as Apostles they went out into the wider world.

This is the final Sunday of the Easter season. Next week is Pentecost, today’s reading from Acts, as well as the Collect of the Day, give expression to our yearning for the Holy Spirit. “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us.” This yearning for the Spirit is very much a part of the Resurrection faith we celebrate this season.

They had followed Jesus and now they waited and prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We do that in our own lives and in the life of our congregation. We continue to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.” and we continue to seek divine inspiration for the work we do and the life we lead in the world. We pray for understanding, wisdom, guidance and strength to go on. We pray for our community, the community of all believers. We pray for the Spirit to come, even while we acknowledge the Spirit is with us.

And in today’s Gospel lesson we hear part of the self-offering prayer which was prayed by Jesus as he waited to face the ordeal of the cross. Facing that immense trial, Jesus spoke of being glorified, glorified by the Father that the Father might be glorified in him.

In a time when great divisions threaten the unity of so many Christian communions the poignancy of Jesus’ prayer that we believers may be one is striking. When Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the Father are one, he is praying all of us into this mystery too. We should become one with each other.

Recently a communique was sent by the Episcopal News Service. It acknowledged that.

On Sunday morning, members of the same congregation come to church for different reasons. Some might seek respite from the debates raging around the country. Others might be seeking guidance or inspiration for their roles in the public square. Others might be bringing more intimate worries and joys to the nave.

Today we are exposed to divides not so keenly seen in the United States since the Civil War or at least since protests wracked the country during the civil rights era and the Vietnam War.

People who generally agree with the direction of the current administration frequently encounter others who decry that direction. The relentless pace of the news cycle with its one scandal or debatable decision after another can feel like a bombardment no matter one’s stance.

Living a faithful life in the midst of such divisions is not easy. The task of the clergy is to build community, to build a Christian community and it’s a community that’s grounded in the gospel. We need to provide a vision of justice, forgiveness and God’s love.

Know that Jesus is praying for us. That is an awesome thought. That Jesus himself is praying for our understanding and protection. Not a friend or a favorite saint, but Jesus. Jesus standing before God, praying for us. As he ascended into heaven he blessed the community of all believers. Imploring them to be one as he and the Father are one.

“Protect them,” says Jesus to the Holy Father. “Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Love your neighbor even when you do not always agree with your neighbor. Be a comfort to those who need help and as a community be at peace with all people.

Service Schedule

Sunday Services
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite I
9:15 a.m. Christian Formation
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, Rite II

Weekday Services
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Holy Eucharist

Address

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
5373 Franz Rd
Katy, Texas 77493
(281) 391-2785
Website:http://www.stpaulskaty.org
Email:info@stpaulskaty.org

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