Seventh Sunday of Easter
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. The official day of celebration was last Thursday. Next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost.
We are in the time between the Ascension and Pentecost, between the departure of Jesus in the flesh and the arrival of Jesus in the spirit.
On that first Ascension Day, Jesus said:
“ . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Then, as we know, the disciples huddled together in fear until Jesus returned as a blast of wind and tongues of flame just a few days later. We will celebrate that event next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday. In anticipation of Pentecost therefore, Saint Pater tells us today:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”
The Holy Scriptures embrace the whole multitude of human experience, from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. Some days we get to vacation at the lake; other days it’s a fiery ordeal. Some days are easy; some days – we’re stuck in traffic, or worse.
Some days the appointed Bible reading strikes us as so contemporary that we wonder how a 2,000 year-old text could possibly be speaking right to our immediate condition. Saint Peter in his letter to various churches about a fiery ordeal was not talking about a pandemic; he was not talking about the state of American politics and the politics of so many other countries these days; he was not talking about the first outbreak of major war in Europe since World War II; he was not talking about people killing schoolchildren with machine guns; he was not talking about anything going on today. Historians tell us that Saint Peter in today’s epistle was talking about Roman authorities breaking up Christian worship and throwing Christians into jail and worse. Saint Peter wrote this letter some time a few decades after the death of Christ.
We thought, many of us, that persecution would end; that pandemics, mass murders, civil wars, invasions, were a thing of the past; that modern medicine could cure things like this; that a better education system would help us to love and tolerate or accommodate one another; that surely since World War II ended with a couple of puffs of atomic smoke, we would learn how to get along better.
We Americans wonder today, after another mass murder, in the midst of such an angry time in American history, if things have gotten better since World War II, or worse.
Well, we are and always have been, all of our lives, everywhere on earth, in the midst of a fiery ordeal. That’s the way it is.
As always, we can respond with greed, hatred, fear and ignorance. Or we can respond with generosity, clarity, steadiness and love.
We have a choice in this time, as all times, of living in fear and feeling alone and in surrender to negativity; or we can choose to live in love, find love in our hearts and discover the love of God all around us. We can choose to feel ourselves part of something greater, of the communion of saints, of those who have taken the Gospel to heart and responded with love.
We can open our eyes and see the saints caring for the elderly in nursing homes, see the saints working in hospitals, stocking the shelves of our grocery stores, checking out our groceries, making our coffee, responding to emergencies . . .
When we do this, we share in the communion of saints.
So take a breath. Think not so much about what you fear but think about what you can offer.
Be the medicine this world needs. Be the uplifting music. Be the lamp in the darkness. Be a carrier of hope.
Where others hoard…..help.
Where others deceive……speak truth.
Where others are overwhelmed or uncaring…..
. . . be kind and respectful.
“Humble yourselves,” as Peter says, “under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”
Psalm 68:1-10 Exsurgat Deus
1 Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
2 Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away;
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
3 But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God;
let them also be merry and joyful.
4 Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
exalt him who rides upon the heavens;
The LORD is his Name, rejoice before him!
5 Father of orphans, defender of widows,
God in his holy habitation!
6 God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom;
but the rebels shall live in dry places.
7 O God, when you went forth before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
8 The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance;
you refreshed the land when it was weary.
10 Your people found their home in it;
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.