theunfamiliarname

Homily for Sunday after Ascension C

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm

[ A balloon rises to the rafters]
That is rather what the Gospels seem to have in mind.
In the up-down view of the ancient world,
this is a perfectly adequate explanation of the Ascension.

Jesus carried beyond human sight into heaven,
which was – as everybody knew back then – up there somewhere.

An unexamined interpretation of the Ascension stories are, though,
not really adequate to those of us
who don’t think of heaven as a location,
able to be found in the same way as Alpha Centauri or Outer Mongolia.

As I wrote in May’s magazine,
when cosmonaut Yuri Gegarin returned to earth,
Soviet journalists asked him if he had seen Heaven or any evidence of God.

And of course, they used this as some sort of continued ridicule of religion.

An overly literal reading of the Ascension risks missing the point.
And has us looking in the wrong place as we seek to make sense of the story.

“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” ask the angelic figures.
As if to keep us reminded that that’s the metaphor, the symbol,
not the meaning.

We have our feet firmly on the ground.

The Ascension is not about a balloon, it’s actually about a bookend.
It’s the ending to one book, and the beginning of another.
Quite literally, Luke’s Gospel concludes with the reading we’ve just heard,
and his sequel, “The Acts of the Apostles” begins by retelling that same story.

Why?

Because, clearly, he sees it as pivotal.
In the Gospel account, we bask in the glory of Jesus returning to heaven.
In Acts, white-robed messengers move the disciples on.
Direct them back to the world of men and women,
where there is work to be done, good news and forgiveness to be proclaimed,
where “witnesses of these things” must make the world different.

You might remember those words of Teresa of Avila,
also in your monthly magazine (sounds a bit like an advertorial):
“Christ has no hands on earth now but yours”.
In the Ascension, we’re reminded that our calling is to be,
as literally as you like, “the Body of Christ.”

What we do matters.  How we treat people matters.

We are invited in this Ascensiontide,
not to simply look adoring into heaven,
but to work in the cause of the Kingdom,
honouring God by our care for the stranger, the poor, the defenceless.

At the conclusion of this “Fair Trade Fortnight”,
we’re reminded that some of those very people make our clothes.
They grow our coffee and tea.
We have choices to make,
so consumer culture is forever telling us.
So let us choose not to be a cause of suffering to others.
Not to literally buy into a system
that would deny a living wage to those who actually produce the items we trade.
If the Incarnation has any meaning,
if we really do believe that this Jesus shares our humanity,
and that of those faceless far-away people whose work we wear
and from whose labour we benefit,
then in the Ascension … we – and they – are carried with him.

Jesus ascends, whatever image you want to put around that,
and humanity is carried with him to the very heart of God.
We who share flesh and blood with him
are invited into the divinity that Christ has shown us.
In the Ascension, we are grounded in eternity.
We are grounded in God.
That is a hope that sustains us,
a reality that will not be broken by anything, even death.
When we no longer see those we love.

A hope that, grounded in God, raised to God,
we and all humanity are transformed and will be transformed.
We are with the God who is both in time and out of time.

Archimedes, great mathematician of Ancient Greece,
had an idea that if he had an immovable place and a lever of sufficient length,
he could move the world.
Jesus’ ascension, and us with him, reminds us that we have one.
We are grounded in the secure, immoveable rock that is God.

We are charged with moving the world, you and I.
Transforming and challenging all that is not of God.
Jesus’ leaving history and geography
paradoxically liberates all time and space
to the transformative power of his life and his revelation of the Divine.
For while we are grounded in God, in heaven, in eternity,
our eyes are clearly focused on this time and this space.

“Why do you stand looking into heaven?” angels ask the disciples.

The Ascension is not an excuse for other-worldly abdication.
Quite the opposite.
More than ever, we are invited to engage with the real world.

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