My dearest brothers and sisters,
Happy Easter to you all! Christ is alive, death is disarmed, and the victory of God Almighty is given to you! What greater joy can there be?
I write to you in one of the more peculiar weeks in the Church Kalendar. These nine days between the Feast of the Ascension (celebrated last Thursday) and the Feast of Pentecost (celebrated this coming Sunday) mark what seems to me to be a distinctly ‘still’ space. While, indeed, for the rest of this week we are still in the Easter season – so, let your ‘Happy Easters’ continue, no matter what the secular world may say! – things now look a little different. For, as we celebrated last Thursday, the Lord has “gone up on high”; Christ has ascended into heaven and returned to the Father. In one of the most astounding and beautiful acts of God, the human body that you and I share with Jesus himself is not left behind and disregarded at the end of his sojourn on Earth, but is – in its fullness – taken up, exalted, and seated on the throne of Almighty God. No words of mine can adequately reflect the unfathomable depths of this glorious truth; if anyone’s could, we should scarcely cease rejoicing! For, in the Feast of the Ascension, we mark that ever since that great day – that, at the very moment you are reading this letter – the same human flesh that you, me, and God himself share is sitting on the throne of heaven, exalted above all praise. For, in Jesus, our humanity – all that it is to be human: joys, sorrows, burdens, cares, triumphs, disappointments, love, and pain – is taken up and enveloped in the person of God, not that it may be dissolved and forgotten but that it may be held even closer to his heart. What greater news is there?
It strikes me that, at its core, this beautiful reality of the Lord’s Ascension speaks profoundly to matters of great importance to all we at St Margaret’s: community, shared identity, and belonging. For, the humanity that is God’s is not simply that of the 1st century Palestinian carpenter, but rather that which belongs to us all. Inasmuch as I am to see my humanity reflected and held in the person of Jesus, so too am I to see in him the humanity – the ‘person’ – of each and every one of you. Almost exactly five months ago, we gathered at the crib to rejoice in the Word being made flesh, him in whom and by whom all things were made taking upon himself our human nature. And now that song of praise continues, for that same Word – Jesus, Son of Mary – has ascended into heaven, bringing with him the flesh that is his, the body that is ours. In celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, we celebrate something fundamentally corporate. For, we celebrate that the humanity once unique to each of us is now drawn together in the person of Jesus, held in unity, and exalted on the throne of God. We celebrate that it is in him that we find our shared identity. The gospel reading, this past Sunday, gave us a fragment of the Lord’s high priestly prayer from John 17. In it, Christ prays that “all may be one, just as [he] and the Father are one.” This Ascensiontide, we give thanks that indeed we have been so drawn together as one and indivisibly united in his resurrected and ascended body; we give thanks that, in him, we have been made, called, and destined for community. For, in this body which is his and ours, no trace of isolation may be found.
This coming Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Here, we mark the coming of the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the Comforter, the Sustainer, the Life-Giver – into and upon the people of God. As we look toward this hallmark of the Church year and reflect on this momentous event, let me suggest one crucial detail of the story as a focus for our reflections. We read here, in Acts 2, that the Spirit of God comes to his people when they are gathered together for prayer and worship. Indeed, we read immediately before this that it is in just such a manner that the disciples gather in response to the Lord’s Ascension. From the very moment Jesus is taken up into heaven, we see that the ‘default’ of the Church has been to gather, to join together in prayer and worship. Those first disciples here give us the normative standard of what it is to ‘be’ the Church: namely, to gather as one. As members of the Body of Christ, joined indissolubly to one another in him, gathering in community becomes nothing less than our normative standard – that by which we fully inhabit all that the Lord has made us to be. As we will celebrate, this coming Sunday, it is in this context – the people of God gathered in worship – that the Holy Spirit comes. For, it is in just such gathering that the Body of Christ – that body within which a once scattered people are drawn together in shared identity and unity of belonging; that body made, called, and destined for community – may be found. And where Christ’s Body is, there his Spirit is also.
This Pentecost, may that same Spirit likewise find us gathered as one in worship, as he first found those gathered in the upper room. May he restore, renew, and revive every one of us, that the zeal of our forebears may be found in us, too. And may we be ready to welcome him.
Happy Easter! Happy Ascension! Blessed Pentecost! And, I will see you on Sunday.
Your brother in the Lord,