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Date Posted: May 24, 2020

Ascension Sunday Pandemic

“Then, the disciples asked him, ‘Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’”

I get it. Giving sound to the deaf and sight to the blind; resuscitating the dead, and being resurrected from hell — all excellent moments, or, as the text says, “many convincing truths.” But, can we finally return things to “normal”? And, just to be clear, Jesus, when we say “normal” we mean when we were in charge.

We’ve said it before and will say it again: These texts were assigned to us somewhere around the beginning of the common era. But, if I could have picked any texts for today, it might be these.

Even with all of last week’s glitches, you could practically hear the hallelujah from every household when Stuart’s face appeared for the first time in over 70 days from inside the building:

We’re back! That’s our parish hall; our grand piano; that’s where we used to eat together every week while our children played.

Even if we aren’t there, Stuart and Will are there and in some way their presence in that space is our proxy.

And there’s nothing wrong with any of those feelings. Just as there was nothing wrong with Jesus’ disciples hoping that their days of being crushed under Rome’s heel might be coming to an end. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically noble about being forced to be the underdog. It doesn’t seem too much to ask the man who managed all of those miracles, those “convincing truths”, if he could just let them know when “this” would be over.

And he answers them. They just don’t get the answer they want. But, on closer inspection, they get what they need. Their political situation is the symptom of their powerlessness. And, he gives them power.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses not just here at home where you so desperately want to matter, but to the very ends of the earth!”

I don’t think that God minds our frustration, our questions. Where we seem to be misaligned is that we lack clarity about what is at the heart of our frustration. In asking for relief of our symptoms, and not cure for our souls, we allow our scarcity mindset to limit our awareness of God’s presence in our true suffering.

Jesus was trying to tell them — and us — “A new kingdom has come, and of course the Temple matters, just as Grace’s building and all that it means to us matters.” After all, Jesus has been hanging out at the Temple since he was a baby, and he even took the idea of the Temple so seriously that he went a little righteous on the money changers and other hawkers who were defiling it. But, on that day, just hours before Jesus ascended, when he realized the disciples had come to think of their place as the only thing that signified who they were, he pushed back.

Place matters, but God isn’t confined to it. God lives in each of us. And the power that they — and we — so desperately crave?

It cannot be the sort of energy that creates winners and losers. His disciples wanted to be “on top” again — the primacy of “their power” restored.  But that leaves a whole world stacked beneath them. That’s not transformative or redemptive. That’s just “king of the hill.”

Last week when Stuart and I were at the building rehearsing how to live stream, we came across a handout left in the narthex from way back on March 8. When we read it, the foreshadowing of the message was stunning. In the light of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples, listen to these words from Fr. Thomas Keating:

“Powerlessness is our greatest treasure. Don’t try to get rid of it. Everything in us wants to get rid of it. Grace is sufficient for us, but not something we can understand. To be in too big a hurry to get over our difficulties is a mistake because we don’t know how valuable they are from God’s perspective, for without them we might never be transformed as deeply and as thoroughly. If everything else fails, the dying process is a place where we have to go through the transformation because everything is taken away. The spiritual journey is a commitment to allow everything we possess to be taken away before the dying process begins. This makes us of enormous value to ourselves and to others because we have anticipated death and death is not the end but the beginning of the fullness of transformation.”

It will indeed be a glorious day when no one wears a mask and we are crowded shoulder to shoulder in the pews. But, I will be forever grateful for the lessons of these days — even in the midst of some many things that have been frustrating and infuriating.

I am so grateful for the creative energy of our vestry, our staff, the various working groups, that have discovered new ways to connect with people who aren’t able to get here, and on a personal note, to recover a yearning for prayer time that I had not known since the early days of my conversion, not to mention the deep peace that comes from learning to say “I don’t know” to so many questions.

I don’t know when we will have bread and wine together again. But, I know that [as Nathaniel Peters reminds us in his article on “Spiritual Communion”] as much as we “are what we eat”, we are also what we remember. And, we remember that we have been fed with spiritual food and empowered to be Christ-bearers not only inside the walls of Grace, but to the very ends of the earth, where ironically the internet has now carried our witness.

Part of our common humanity that bears the traces of God’s image is the capacity to remember, to connect the dots, and to make meaning of things, so that no one event or adversity has the power to define us or to conclude our story.

There is nothing wrong with symbols that mark our belonging to a group.

But they cannot be all that matters, or the only thing that grounds us. Because life is too unpredictable and stuff happens. All our tokens and talismans must remain connected to something with deeper roots, something drought, wind and — yes  — virus resistant.

Our greatest joy cannot be limited to sharing the Eucharist together in the Nave but must also include that moment when we “re-member” ourselves to the Holy Spirit in our souls, “eating love in memory as we wait to receive Christ again in our bodies. [Nathaniel Peters].”

After so many weeks, to continue waiting will require strength. Thanks be to God, Christ has promised to pour that onto and inside of us.

Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park, LPC, PhD
The Seventh Sunday of Easter – The Feast of the Ascension
May 24, 2020