TWIXT ASCENSION AND PENTECOST
Dave Beuerman, June 5, 2011, The 7th Sunday of Easter, John 17:1-11
Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns Die Stimme!
Today’s Gospel is “A Farewell Prayer of Jesus for his Disciples” but that makes it seem more interesting than it turns out to be! On the other hand, in John’s Gospel this reading immediately precedes the very interesting Arrest in the Garden. On the third hand, in the Lectionary it immediately follows the Ascension, which, again, is very interesting.
These considerations give me ample grounds for giving a review of readings, starting with Palm Sunday, which I had intended to do in any case. Except that this will be, perhaps, more of a revision than a review.
It always seems a shame to me that Palm Sunday has become, in effect, Passion Sunday. I suppose the rationale for de-emphasizing the Palm aspect is that folks may not turn up for Holy Week services. In the same spirit I should say at least a few words about Ascension, which I will at the end.
Still, we may have missed the likes of Marcus Borg’s story of the two processions on Palm Sunday, which really would be a shame. So here goes. Two processions entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The one from the East was the Jesus procession; the one from the West was the Roman Imperial procession. The latter demonstrated the Roman Imperial way: violence, power and hubris, whereas the Jesus procession was exactly the opposite, featuring non-violence, love and humility. For example, recall that Jesus rode a borrowed donkey; very different from the Roman Imperial procession! To come to the point here: we need to ask ourselves as individuals and as a nation – in the words of an old union song, “Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?” I suspect if we don’t struggle with that, giving the usual nonsense about being on the side of democracy, we don’t really understand the situation.
Next stop: Holy Thursday, excuse me, Maundy Thursday. There is something very compelling about the words of Jesus here, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” One overall answer would be that He lived for us, He died for us and He rose from the dead for us; we might well add, He ascended to Heaven for us. But here the immediate answer is that He washed our feet – and we are to wash each others feet! There is something beautiful about that. However, taking this very literally and narrowly, this seems absurd. But then such readings are always absurd. Clearly, what is intended here is that we are to have compassion for others AND to ACT on that compassion, the focus being on the other, not ourselves. I think that you really could make the case that Maundy Thursday is the most important day of the year; here we find how we are to continue the work of Jesus. I repeat, we are to continue the work of Jesus!
In the Sundays of Easter, we often have readings from Acts in place of the more usual readings from the Hebrew Scriptures. One of the most challenging and therefore most ignored is Acts 2 : 44 – 45, in which we read, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” One of many ways around this is to claim that the very early church was really not this communal. But still, there you have a reading from Acts which Marx took much more seriously that we Christians do.
Two passages from two Gospels on The Arrest of Jesus should also be food for thought, especially in a permanent war economy country. In Matthew 26, we read Jesus saying “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” In Luke 22, we read Jesus saying to the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave, “No more of this!” Something I just recently noticed: in the passage from Luke, the victim is a slave, rather like the Russian peasants who might well have fallen in great numbers if the cold war had heated up.
Two thoughts on Good Friday. Firstly, we see here how much God loves us: that he allows Jesus to go through this awful experience of Crucifixion; can you imagine allowing your son or your daughter to go through something like that when you could have stopped it? Secondly, what is most important about Good Friday is what does NOT happen: God does not send in the Marines. The way of Jesus is the way of non-violence. Of all the hard teachings of Jesus, of all the main teachings of Jesus, that has to be top of the charts.
Has all this been too materialistic, not sufficiently spiritual, even not sufficiently theological? OK, let’s talk about THEOSIS as applied to the Resurrection and the Ascension; it begins with the Incarnation. St. Athanasius said “God became man so that men could become gods.” And – I am glad to say — this is part of our Anglican tradition through Lancelot Andrewes for example. Jesus became human in the Incarnation, rose from the dead as a human and ascended to God as a human. His humanity then implies the possibility of our resurrection from the dead and the possibility of our ascension to God. By using the term “implies” I don’t mean to suggest that this connection is easily understood; indeed, finally it is a mystery, a sacred mystery. More importantly, it is TRUE. Indeed, it is one of the most fundamental Christian Truths.
THEOSIS is an important, beautiful and neglected idea. Perhaps it might be better to say instead of “we could become gods” that “we could become more god-like.” However, with the Love of God, the example of Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who knows what we might become. We just might find the courage to end war and violence of all kinds. That would truly be continuing the work of Jesus!
I conclude with a reformulation, in the immortal words of the world’s leading authority, my wife, who, as usual, is right on. “Who knows what is possible for us if we would enter completely into the love of God.”