Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday after the Ascension

1 Peter 4:7-11 / John 15:26, 27; 16:1-4

To have experienced the desolation of the Lord's death, sharpened all the more by their own abandonment of him, to taste that unexpected and unparalleled joy in encountering the Lord risen from the Tomb, but then to have the Lord's visible presence once more taken away might be more than we could expect anyone to bear. The pain of loss can be hard enough, but we can at least find a way to live in and through it, if never beyond it. Yet, to have than pain relieved for a time, only to seem as though to reintroduce it by a new loss, might incline us to wonder at the good of the remedy itself. If the Lord is gone, why can we not simply learn to live with that loss? If the Lord is risen to life eternal, why can he not be with us as we was before?

What the disciples would come to see, what we, too, must come to see, is that the world from which Jesus has ascended is not less, but rather more abundantly full of his presence. While his visible presence is no longer available to us, we must admit that such a presence was the least accessible to most people, even those who lived when he walked the earth. In exchange for this seeming loss, we have received rather the fulness of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, Who procedeth from the Father. This same Spirit, who gives abiding and life-transforming testimony to Jesus Christ, is also the same Spirit who, working and sanctifying the members of Christ's body, the Church, transforms each of us. He makes us, by his work, good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Chief among those ways the Spirit does both tasks, that is, to testify to Christ and to empower us as ministers of grace, is to work in us that Christ be sacramentally present among us — body, blood, soul, and divinity, which is to say the whole truth of Jesus Christ — in the Eucharist, and that we might fruitfully partake of that presence and so be drawn into deeper conformity and community with him.

This is why we ought to see the life of the Church not as a time of trial as we await for Christ to be among us again. Trials, of course, Christ assured us will come: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth a service to God. Even so, these are not a kind of test, seeing how faithful we remain in the absence of Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven. Rather, we face these trials, even as we minister the manifold grace of God, as enjoying the fulness of Christ's personal presence, and as strengthened and empowered, indeed loved and befriended, by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and draws us closer to the Father by making us grow, day by day, more like the Son, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension of Christ, then, points us not beyond this world to a heaven apart and a future not yet realized. Instead, by his ascending into heaven, Christ has opened the way for the world to be even more filled with his holy presence, and for us, through the coming of the Paraclete, to give a more effective witness to the saving work he has done, and continues to do, in us.

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