Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ascension: 2013: Homily: 2nd attempt to say what I wanted to say


They worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy

John Calvin famously or infamously, some would say, argued that Christ was not present in the Lord’s Supper because he had ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father. As ridiculous as that may sound to us – after all a risen, ascended  and glorified body can presumably do all sorts of things that other bodies cannot do – Calvin was trying to refute the notion that Jesus Christ was physically present in Eucharist, something which the Church had never taught. The Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is real and local, a matter of  here and not there.

In any case St. Matthew tells us that the last words of Jesus to his disciples were:

            Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world.

And St. Augustine insists:

            He did not leave heaven when he came down from heaven and he did not leave
            us when he ascended to heaven again.

Still it is true that the disciples of Jesus experienced after the Ascension something we might call the real absence of Jesus. Jesus was apparently no longer present to them physically. They could not ask him questions face-to-face as they once had. They could not see those eyes filled with love, even as he reproached them. They could no longer feel his saving touch. They could no longer eat with him, have their feet washed by him, they could not see and touch his wounds and his side.

What was happening was what Fr. Ronald Knox called ‘the weaning.’ They were being weaned from his physical presence. It was time for them to begin to stand on their own.
His glory would now be veiled.

The reason for this departure is given in the reading today from the Acts of the Apostles:
you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.

If they were to preach the Gospel of Jesus, they would have to become one of us. They would have to give up the high privilege of knowing the flesh and blood Jesus, if they were to speak to us, who have had no such advantage. What Jesus had asked of them all long, what they now must ask of the world, is faith, “confidence in things unseen”-- that free assent of the human will to the person of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, the Lord, the Savior, the King.

Of course it is true that our Lord is present in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar, that in times of prayer and stress we can fell His presence, that the mystic hears Him and sees Him. But this is still different from the experience of those who lived with Jesus from the very first.  As St. Paul says “we see through a glass darkly”. We are quite accustomed to this darkness and we have all sorts of advantages that the apostles did not have. The New Testament for one thing and the whole history of the Church for another. A long history of men and women who knew and experienced the presence of Jesus even and especially in the darkness. But for the apostles we must imagine it was a loss, an occasion for sadness.

Yet the remarkable thing is that there is not a trace of sorrow and sadness in the biblical record. Just the opposite:

While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy,  and were continually in the temple blessing God.

So ends St. Luke’s Gospel and how can we account for it?

First, they had become accustomed to Jesus coming and going. We talk about the resurrection appearances but we could just as well say the resurrection disappearances. One moment he is in the upper room, despite the locked doors, the next minute he is gone. On the road to Emmaus and then gone. The Resurrection made all the difference. Sorrow was for the three days he lay in the tomb. After his Resurrection there can only be joy, because they know that nothing can stop Jesus, nothing can snuff him out. They thought when he died he was a never-was but now they know he is never ending.

Second,  the Epistle today tells us Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father

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 that which is 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.

He sits at the right hand and ever makes intercession for us. The Lord of all ascends above all and we live in the kingdom of His love and  authority and power.

This is what accounts not only for their joy but their courage and confidence. But what accounts for our sadness and our fears and lack of confidence under the rule of the same risen and ascended Lord?

They worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen,

"But what accounts for our sadness and our fears and lack of confidence under the rule of the same risen and ascended Lord?" St. Augustine: We're (I'm) not fully converted. ...Thanks so much for posting your Sunday homily, which I missed. There's an alien quality about an alien book about an "alien" G-d/man that makes no sense. Yet we're existentially alien in this planet earth Cosmic Boot Camp and the "alien" invasion is home and Joy. Thanks for the reminder and sermon eloquence. Respectfully, Brent