7 Easter 2022
The Rev. Marilyn Anderson
We’ve just moved past one of the most under-celebrated, yet major feast days of the Christian Church. In times past there would be big-deal liturgies and gatherings in honor of the Feast of the Ascension. But lately in the Church, with fewer parishioners and fewer pastors, Ascension Thursday is one of those days that feels just like any other.
The Ascension, of course, happened 40 or so days after the Resurrection. It’s when Jesus left his followers behind and went back to the Godhead, to be there till the final judgment of the world. Early Christian art sometimes depicted the Ascension very whimsically. I’ve seen several renderings of the scene showing a tight circle of people gazing up into the sky, and at the top of the canvas are the feet of Jesus poking out of a cloud, the rest of him already hidden.
Now, those feet are really important because they are a gritty reminder that Jesus took his human body, and by extension, all of humanity back into the Holy Trinity. Not only are we loved by God, but now we are an indelible part of God. Conversely that means that God understands totally the human condition, our joys, our sufferings, our pleas, our frustrations. God knows what it’s like to be a human being in a human-dominated world, because God is living inside of our reality—and our reality is inside God.
Now, for us, this lofty truth may feel pretty distant. Yes, in a sense, we’ve been taken up into the Godhead, into heaven, if you will. But especially recently, our lives do NOT feel very much like heaven. // We’ve just been through hell and may feel stuck in hell. There’s this endless pandemic brought on by a clever virus that will not stop. We sit and watch parts of Ukraine blown to smithereens by a ruthless dictator. Our country dances on the edge of joining that war more fully—and now there’s the China threat vis-à-vis Taiwan. Prices are rising. Nonviolent and violent crime rates are soaring. And most recently we are all suffering through the hell of a recent mass shooting of innocent little kids at their school in Uvalde, Texas. This is but the most recent horrid tragedy of its kind in our country.
Some parents of kids are afraid to send their own children to such an environment where there are frequent drills to practice what to do there’s a shooter in the school. Now kids are growing up / not just with caution about strangers / but in an atmosphere of downright fear and paranoia. And, unfortunately, this is all for good reason.
Some of us struggle even more as our memories of the Sandy Hook massacre and all the awful feelings that got implanted within us / get stirred up once again.
As a country it feels like we are stuck right now. It surely doesn’t help that our government is practically impotent due to huge cultural and political forces that work against humility and cooperation. Yes, there are imperfect and spotty mental health services all across America. And yes, we live in a country held hostage by institutional structures that make the government unable to take the wishes of a majority and turn them into policy.
Our country has 40% of the world’s firearms. Our ability to regulate who holds them / is riddled with holes.
We’re stuck in the grips of something that feels EVIL. And that can lead us to feel powerless. That can lead us to lose hope.
And hope is the foundation of our faith. Hope for a better world. Hope for communal salvation. Hope that one day, everyone will be able to thrive. Hope that “justice for all” will be more than just a phrase at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance.
And the poignant cry to Jesus that closes the Book of Revelation—that is in the very last page of the Bible and that is our second reading today—speaks so loudly now. That cry is “COME.”
The Spirit and the bride [the Church] say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
And the very last plea, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
[Rev 22: 17, 20b]
How lovely it is that this plea for rescue and fulfillment is paired today with the passage from John’s gospel. Like the readings of earlier weeks, it gives us a part of Jesus’ farewell address at the Last Supper. Jesus is praying to his Father that all his followers may be One through the power of Love. He wants us all to be completely one, and united to him in such a way that he is in us, and we in him.
Imagine a world in which there is such unity, such peace, and such love.
And imagine how we can be involved in bringing it about. God puts before us many opportunities to work for unity and peace. It’s not a matter of earning our way to heaven, but instead a matter of expressing our gratitude and love of God by means of helping others and working for God’s great dream of peace and unity all over the planet.
What kinds of things could we be doing right now? First of all I suggest everyone go to the website for Sandy Hook Promise, or perhaps Everytown for Gun Safety or The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. If you can’t remember their names, just google “Organizations for Gun Safety.” Support these foundations.
Now, we are so fortunate that our Congressional representatives largely “get it” here in Connecticut. We can, nonetheless, work to elect people all across the country who are committed to work to make mental health programs and firearms regulation more complete. We can listen intentionally when our friends and family are troubled. We can pray and implore the Almighty to help us climb out of this evil quagmire.
Listen to this excerpt from the poem entitled “Everything Hurts,” by Amanda Gorman, the talented poet who spoke at the Biden Inauguration in 2021. It was printed in the New York Times Op-Ed section yesterday.
May we not just grieve, but give:
May we not just ache, but act;
May our signed right to bear arms
Never blind our sight from shared harm;
May we choose our children over chaos.
May another innocent never be lost.
Maybe everything hurts,
Our hearts shadowed & strange.
But only when everything hurts
May everything change.
[emphasis mine; “Everything Hurts” by Amanda Gorman, New York Times, May 28, 2022]
Naming, giving, and acting are holy work.
And they all are a part of our being God’s hands in the world. //
Please do not lose hope. Seen from the biggest perspective, we have come from Love and are to return to Love. May we be able, with God’s help, to leave the world more at ease, more at peace. Keep at the work of making things better.
To quote our beloved Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry:
Now, may God continue to hold us all in those everlasting arms.