The Ascension

One of the loveliest things about today is that it tends to focus, in religious art at least, on feet:  the smelly things we like to keep hidden away from the world. Today we see Jesus’ in all their glory going back to where they came from, but they go back differently than they descended: they go back marked with nails, wounded, bearing the marks of God’s love, it is this love which fills us in the Church, the same love which feeds us in His Body and Blood.

We have come here today to celebrate Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. The world around us may well find the idea quaint or laughable – or at least physically impossible. But it is no less hard to believe than Our Lord becoming incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or his rising from the dead at Easter. The world, with the greatest confidence, will tell us that what we are celebrating are myths and fairy stories, but they fail to get the point of what’s really going on.

Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, and to prepare for the sending of the Holy Spirit on his disciples at Pentecost. He who shares our humanity takes it into heaven, into the very life of the Godhead; so that where he is we may be also. We have seen the promise of new life in Easter, a new life which is in the closer presence of God, which we celebrate today. We can see where it leads – what started at the Incarnation finds its goal and truest meaning in the unity of the human and the divine.

But rather than seeing this as an end it is surely far better to see in it a beginning – a beginning of the Church as we know it – a church which goes and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Our Lord commanded us. This is exactly where we have been for nearly two thousand years. Inspired by the Holy Spirit they did what their Lord commanded them to do and that is why we are here today celebrating this fact.

But like them we too are called to follow Our Lord’s commands and to share his good news with the world so that it may believe. We are called to live lives where our faith is enfleshed in us – it is not abstract and private, but concrete and public. The Atheist who finds our beliefs laughable now joins forces with an Enlightenment Rationalist who wishes faith to be a private matter rather than a public one. This will not do: Our Lord did not say ‘Don’t do this if it’s inconvenient’ or ‘There’s no need to make a fuss in public about me’. He speaks as one given authority, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’, so we can gladly place ourselves under His authority, to do his will.

He makes us a promise: ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ He is with us by sending His Spirit on the Church at Pentecost and ever since. He is with us in his Word, Holy Scripture and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is through this (and the other Sacraments of the Church) that God’s grace can perfect our human nature – so that we can prepare to share the divine life of love in Heaven. Where our Lord goes we can hope to follow, through his sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross, a sacrifice made present here and on the altars of churches all throughout the world, to strengthen us, so that we may be close to him, sharing in the divine life of love poured out on us.

Once Jesus has ascended in glory and before he returns as our judge the only place where we can encounter him is in and through the Church, in its sacraments, in the word of Holy Scripture, and in people, filled with His Holy Spirit: it is a huge responsibility, but a movement which started with 12 men in Jerusalem is still going strong nearly two thousand years later. We have been given the gift of faith and it is up to us to pass it on, so that others may come to share in the joy of the Lord.

We can all hope to follow Him, and to spend eternity contemplating the Beatific Vision, caught up in that love which is the Divine Nature, sharing in the praise of all creation of the God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains all. We can have this hope because Christ has gone before us, he has prepared the way for humanity to follow him and share in the divine life of love.

Let us prepare for this by living the life of faith, strengthened by Him, proclaiming his truth, praying for the gift of His Spirit at Pentecost, that the Church may be strengthened to proclaim His saving truth and the baptism of repentance, so that we and all the world may sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Easter VII – Sunday after Ascension – A Radical Alternative

The prophet Ezekiel has a vision (in Chapter 36) of a messianic future, of the restoration of  Israel, which is found in his Son, Jesus Christ and the Church, we are those sprinkled with the clean water of baptism, who have been cleansed. God gives us a new heart and puts his Spirit within us, just as he did on the day of Pentecost, so we are to live as the people of God, lled with his love, and forgiveness, and proclaiming his Truth to the world.

This Sunday in the Gospel we are in the middle of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, which is the summit of his teaching just before his arrest and Passion. Christ has made God’s name known to us, we know him in a different way, we pray to him as ‘Father’ and we are his, we are not our own, despite the Western Liberal infatuation with personal freedom, we are God’s, which affects who we are, and what we do.

Christ speaks to us, and teaches us so that our joy may be complete in him, lled with his love, and the Holy Spirit. The world’s reaction to this is a negative one: because what we are, what we stand for, and how we live as Christians is to be opposed to what the world around us stands for – selshness, greed, which it makes into false gods, as though material wealth, or power, or status could save us – such things are transient and fleeting. It offers us a short-cut, an easy road, whereas if we are following Christ, then we are walking the way of his Passion, we are walking the Way of the Cross, dying daily to sin, and letting God’s grace be at work in and through us. It is not easy, it is difficult, most of us are unable to manage on our own, we need the love and support of the Christian community to help us, even the rst Christians, those who had been with Jesus, needed each 0ther’s help and support, so they can continue what Jesus started.

We need to be together, to meet together to pray for our needs and those of the world, and to be nourished by the word of God, the Bible, and the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, not because they’re something nice to do on a Sunday morning: an add-on, an optional extra that we can opt into and out of as we feel like, but because as Christians they are crucial to who and what we are, if we are to remain in the love of God then we have to live this way. Only then can we offer the world an alternative to the ways of selshness and sin. It will hate us for doing this, it will despise us, it will call us hypocrites when we fail to live up to the example of Jesus, but as Christians who live in the love of God we forgive each other our trespasses, so that we can live out that same radical love and forgiveness which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for love of us and all the world. It is a message of such love, such forgiveness that the world cannot or does not want to understand it, we may not understand it, but we know that it can be experienced, and we are living testimony to its power. It turns our lives around and sets us free to live for God and to proclaim his saving truth in our words and actions, calling the world to repentance, to turn to Christ, and to be renewed in and through Him.

So as we wait with the Apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit let us pray that God may be at work in us, building us up, and giving us strength to live his life and to proclaim his truth, to offer the world that which it most earnestly desires, a peace, a joy and a freedom which pass human understanding, and the gift of eternal life in Christ.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsivenot initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen Rejoice, 1984, 9
One of the great things about the Christian faith is that we worship a God whom we can trust, who keeps his promises. The prophet Ezekiel looks to a future when God’s people are sprinkled with clean water and gathered together. It is a promise which finds its fulfilment in the Church – we are given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone – a generous, loving heart, one filled with the love of God, and are called to share that love with others.
          The event which the Church celebrated on Thursday, and continues to celebrate today: Our Lord’s Ascension, can be a tricky one with which to come to terms. However, just as Jesus came to earth, by the power of the Holy Spirit and took flesh in the womb of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to share our nature, and to heal and restore us, so now Our Risen Lord, having triumphed over death and hell, rises in glory to take our human nature into the Godhead, to point us to our ultimate destiny – eternal life  with God The words of the angels in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles also points to His second coming at the end of time. His words to his assembled followers apply to us as well – you be my witnesses to the ends of the earth and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Their reaction is to constantly devote themselves to prayer – they have an intimate relationship with God. They don’t simply say ‘Oh well that’s lovely, let’s get on with the rest of our compartmentalised life’ but rather they trust in God, they do what he tells them to do, and all of them pray together. In having prayer at the centre of their lives God can be at work in them, and through them in the world, in the power of His Holy Spirit.

          Thus, the prayer of Jesus before His Passion takes on a deeper significance in that it finds fulfilment in the day of Pentecost. We are called to pray, to stay close to God, nourished by Word and Sacrament, and in the power of the Spirit, poured upon us in our Baptism and Confirmation, to bear witness to Christ in the world. In the Eucharist we are fed by God, and fed with God, so that we can share His risen life, and experience the love of God, the love of God seen in Christ, who gives himself for love of us, as a sacrifice, where he is both priest and victim, to restore us and our relationship with God and each other. Having prayed and being nourished by the word of God we prepare to be nourished by God, to be strengthened to pray for His Holy Spirit, and to share the love of God with others, so that we grow together in love and unity.

Easter V

Many people when they consider religion in general and the Christian Faith in particular are wont to see it in negative terms – religion is all about what you cannot or should not do. And it is worth considering that Jesus does give negative prohibitions, and the one thing he says more than anything else is ‘Do not be afraid’. As Christians fear should not be part of who or what we are – we are one with Christ who by His death and resurrection has restored our relationship with God and each other – as we are loved we are to love God and each other, the costly self-giving love shown to us by Christ.

We see this in the way in which Stephen, one of the first deacons, and the first martyr, prays for his murderers as they stone him to death, that God will forgive them. This is love put into practice – lived out in our life and death. Stephen bears witness to Christ, regardless of the cost – he proclaims His divinity, and His victory, and encourages us to do the same, so that following Stephen’s example and aided by his prayers we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives.

Our not being afraid comes from our belief in God – ‘believe in God and believe in me’ we can put our trust in the God who loves us and saves us. In trusting God our faith can grow and develop – in knowing that we are loved by God and that our eternal destiny is to be with God for ever we can grow and develop within the context of this loving relationship.
Christ says ‘I am…’ on seven occasions in John’s Gospel – it picks up God’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 3:14 – ‘I am who I am’ and tells us something about the nature of God. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the Way – the way for us to live our lives, and the Way to heaven, the way to reconciliation to God and each other. He is the truth, the ultimate truth of God’s love for us, and the life – life in all its fullness, eternal life with Him forever. He shows us who and what God is, and what God does, for love of us, and believing and trusting in Him, we can live His risen life.

He feeds us with Himself in Word and Sacrament, He who is the Word of God, who is the Living Bread, so that we may have life and have it to the full. As our celebration of Easter, of His Resurrection turns towards His Ascension, and looks towards Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit so that the Church may live out its faith in His strength and power we can have hope. So let us live this love, fed by God, fed with God, healed and restored by Him, trusting in Him and living out His love in our lives – to proclaim His victory and to transform the world so that it may likewise live out this costly love and trusting in God may come to believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most meet and right all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Pentecost (Yr C)

About fifty days ago around the time that the Jews celebrate the Passover from slavery in Egypt to freedom, we celebrate Easter – Our Saviour Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead. Now as they celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have witnessed the Resurrection, they have seen Our Lord ascend into Heaven, and now He sends His Spirit on them, so that they may be filled with it, strengthened by it, strengthened to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Salvation of mankind.
            It is easy to marvel at the thought of the apostles speaking in more languages than the Eurovision Song Contest, but it also marks the transition of the Apostles from men who were afraid, who hid in the Upper Room, to those who spread the Gospel. We do not however simply celebrate the events of the past, but rather the reality of the present. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the Church, which we receive in the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Order – a gift to strengthen and empower God’s people, the New Israel, the Spirit of life, which raised Jesus from the dead, which gives life to his Church.
            In this morning’s Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, which includes you and me by the way, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’.  We will love God and our neighbour and live lives like Jesus. It sounds simple, but in practice it isn’t. We need to love Jesus and keep his word so He and the Father will make their home with us. In St Paul’s Letter to the Romans we see what life in the Spirit is like. It is a turning away from the ways of the world and the flesh – not despising it, since Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ came in the flesh in the Incarnation, it was in the flesh that Our Lord ascended into heaven taking our flesh into the life of the Godhead, so that where he has gone we may also go. We are to sit lightly to the world and its ways, and through submitting to God to find perfect freedom in him. In the service of the Triune God we can be truly free, free to live for him and to proclaim his truth to the world. If we love God this is what we are called to be, how we are called to live. Only in the Spirit can we enter fully into the divine life of love, and live out this love in the world. In the power of this love we can begin to understand the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, his life, death, and resurrection, and we can let these mysteries shape our lives as Christians.
            God will make his home with us in his word – Holy Scripture and the sacraments of his Church – outward signs of the inward grace which he lavishes on us in the power of his Spirit. That is why we are here today – to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, to see the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, to stand by the Cross so that we may be washed in the blood and water which flows from his side. In this we see God’s love for us, and we are strengthened to live the life of the Spirit – we can remain close to the God who loves us and saves us. We can be taught by his Spirit to remain in the faith which comes to us from the Apostles who first received the Spirit on this day. Let us live strengthened by Spirit, nourished by word and sacrament, in holiness and joy, proclaiming the truth and love of God, so that the world may believe and give glory to of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

The Ascension of the Lord Mt 28:16-20

We have come here today to celebrate Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. The world around us may well find the idea quaint or laughable – or at least physically impossible. But it is no less hard to believe than Our Lord becoming incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or his rising from the dead at Easter. The world, with the greatest confidence, will tell us that what we are celebrating are myths and fairy stories, but they fail to get the point of what’s really going on.
          Our Lord ascends, body and soul into heaven, to the closer presence of God the Father, and to prepare for the sending of the Holy Spirit on his disciples at Pentecost. He who shares our humanity takes it into heaven, into the very life of the Godhead; so that where he is we may be also. We have seen the promise of new life in Easter, a new life which is in the closer presence of God, which we celebrate today. We can see where it leads – what started at the Incarnation finds its goal and truest meaning in the unity of the human and the divine.
But rather than seeing this as an end it is surely far better to see in it a beginning – a beginning of the Church as we know it – a church which goes and makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Our Lord commanded us. This is exactly where we have been for nearly two thousand years. Inspired by the Holy Spirit they did what their Lord commanded them to do and that is why we are here today celebrating this fact.
But like them we too are called to follow Our Lord’s commands and to share his good news with the world so that it may believe. We are called to live lives where our faith is enfleshed in us – it is not abstract and private, but concrete and public. The Atheist who finds our beliefs laughable now joins forces with an Enlightenment Rationalist who wishes faith to be a private matter rather than a public one. This will not do: Our Lord did not say ‘Don’t do this if it’s inconvenient’ or ‘There’s no need to make a fuss in public about me’. He speaks as one given authority, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’, so we can gladly place ourselves under His authority, to do his will.
He makes us a promise: ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ He is with us by sending His Spirit on the Church at Pentecost and ever since. He is with us in his Word, Holy Scripture and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is through this (and the other Sacraments of the Church) that God’s grace can perfect our human nature – so that we can prepare to share the divine life of love in Heaven. Where our Lord goes we can hope to follow, through his sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross, a sacrifice made present here and on the altars of churches all throughout the world, to strengthen us, so that we may be close to him, sharing in the divine life of love poured out on us.
We can hope to follow Him, and to spend eternity contemplating the Beatific Vision, caught up in that love which is the Divine Nature, sharing in the praise of all creation of the God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains all. We can have this hope because Christ has gone before us, he has prepared the way for humanity to follow him and share in the divine life of love.
Let us prepare for this by living the life of faith, strengthened by Him, proclaiming his truth, praying for the gift of His Spirit at Pentecost, that the Church may be strengthened to proclaim His saving truth and the baptism of repentance, so that we and all the world may sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.