Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Proper C ~ May 16, 2010
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
You have gone up on high and led captivity captive
+ In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,
hen we think about our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, Christians face the temptation to de-materialize – and spiritualize – what happened to Jesus. It wasn’t so, perhaps, for the first Christians, who thought of the universe as consisting of three stories: the basement (hell), the living room (the earth as we know it), and upstairs (heaven). So, Jesus came down to the parlor and then went back up. This got a lot harder when we discovered that the universe was bigger. That’s why Galileo got in trouble: no one knew if the faith could survive the new model of the universe. Where did Jesus go? Where is He now? I think the post-Einstein world is a bit more friendly, in some ways. Parallel universes and black holes and time-warps are intriguing. Maybe they can help us to avoid a de-materi-alized Resurrection and Ascension.
So why do I feel a little sheepish
about suggesting that? Why does it seem just a bit like a science-fiction
fantasy? Somehow I think I may be missing the point, as do those poor,
bewildered fundamentalists who insist on the thee-storied universe and the creation
of the world four thousand years ago. Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of the
temptation to de-materialize. After all, what is “matter” anyway? Our present
model of physical reality sees it as bound energy. Could it be that matter and
spirit lie on a continuum, just as matter and energy do? Rudolph Steiner
thought of spirit as light. And since everything is energy (light), that brings
up Mary Baker Eddy’s view that matter is just an illusion: everything is
So, I will flirt with the temptation to spiritualize – at least insofar as to let go of dogged insistence on the glorified Body of the Risen Lord as nothing more than the revival of the body that died on the Cross. I still think the Resurrection must encompass that revival, that resuscitation; but it goes way beyond that. The Resurrection is not just a miracle – the setting aside of the ordinary laws of time and space, as in the case of the raising of Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter or the son of the widow of Nain; the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the intersection of our world of time and space with an entirely different plane of reality. The raising of Lazarus did not change the world, but the Resurrection of Christ does: in fact it makes the world over.
What eventually happened to that mysterious Body remains a mystery, because it belongs to the New Order of reality that invaded our little world and its three-storied consciousness. And modern physics can’t really comprehend that any better than the ancients – or our poor, modern fundamentalists, for that matter. But whatever happened to the physical human nature of our Lord, we must simply affirm that it was not lost. We cannot say what did happen; we can only say what did not happen. Thou wilt not suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.
Having said so, let us dive into the treacherous waters of the spiritual – or at least, the non-material – aspects of the Ascension. The Gospel actually invites us to do so:
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
OK. The world doesn’t have a clue about what is going on here, and never will. Neither do we, in fact, but we do know that Jesus was sent from outside what we know to make known the Name of that incomprehensible Reality. I made your Name known to them, and I will make it known. So it is a process. It is not complete, but it has begun. To “know the name” is to know the essence of something, someone. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known.
This mystical knowledge has something to do with the Ascension – with where Christ is now. Wherever in the world – or out of it – that may be, He has asked that we may be there too:
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am…
Not “with Him” in spirit, in the usual sense of that expression (“I can’t come, but I’ll be with you in spirit”; not with Him in memory or imagination. But with Him where He is. But this where is not a place, exactly; it is the vision of His Glory:
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory
And His Glory – the Reality of His ascended Life – has nothing to do with time or space (with “this world”):
…my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Christ ;s glory is not upstairs, nor is it in the future or the past. It is “before the foundation of the world”. And if Christ’s glory has nothing to do with space or time, it is not “material”, in the ordinary sense of the word. At least not in the three-storied sense of “matter”. And yet we are still to “see” it, and to see it NOW. For Christ prays that we may be where He is, not at some unspecified time in the future, but NOW, by the operation of the Spirit.
So, the vision of the Glory of the Ascended Lord has something to do with consciousness, and maybe not with ordinary, material perception. The destination of the Ascension is a “place” only metaphorically, so that our exaltation to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before, by the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, as the Collect prays, is not floating around in the stratosphere, but the vision of the Cosmos re-created and transfigured, and entry into new life – right now – in His Body, which now in His Ascension fills all things, and of which the Bl. Sacrament is the token and pledge.
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
You have gone up on high and led captivity captive;
you have received gifts even from your enemies,
that the LORD God might dwell among them.