May 24, 2020

Feast of the Ascension - Year A

 

You'll find a video of the entire service at

https://www.facebook.com/StStephensSLO/videos/295486058126178/

 

If you'd like to follow along, click for the Service Booklet and Hymns & Psalter


2020 May24_FrIan

Ascension Sunday - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


Holy, Holy, Holy,
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in the Highest.
Blessed are we who come in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest.


Today we are celebrating the Feast of The Ascension. The Ascension is in the Church’s calendar on the Thursday before the 7th Sunday of Easter, and I replaced the 7th Sunday of Easter so we could acknowledge that Jesus has gone from earth to Heaven. Some on social media have noted that The Ascension is when Jesus started working from home.

 

This also marks the first Sunday in decades, if not in the 153-year life of St Stephen’s that Holy Communion will not be celebrated. Those of you who are on our mailing list will have received the news yesterday that we are not allowed to celebrate Holy Communion in the Diocese of El Camino Real.

 

So, on this Sunday, it feels like Jesus is gone, both in His earthly body and in the Body and Blood of the Sacrament. Jesus is gone from the earth and from the altar. So, we ask ourselves the Ascension question:

Where is Jesus?

The Episcopal Church is known as the “thinking person’s church”, and there are some things that I want us to think through. Also, as Episcopalians, we start to answer a question with the 3-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. So, “Where is Jesus” after The Ascension and with the withdrawal of the Sacrament? Scripture, Tradition and Reason was not applied to the decision to withdraw the Sacrament from our Sunday worship. That decision was made out of fear – not fear of the health, well-being and spiritual lives of any of you, but out of fear of losing one’s reputation. So, I am unable to provide any useful justification for the absence of the Sacrament, which is deeply painful for me and no doubt for you, too. But what about The Ascension?

 

What we know from Scripture is that Jesus has been with us since before the world began. Pastor Karen preached a wonderful sermon on that concept on the First Sunday after Christmas based on the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” At the Incarnation, we believe that when God came into the world as Jesus, humanity was sanctified, and many extend that sanctification to all matter.

 

The Tradition of Jesus imbuing all things has been around for a long time. The concept of the Cosmic Christ – Jesus in everything, has been around since the late 2C theologian Irenaeus, and has been more recently reintroduced by Matthew Fox’s book, “The Coming of the Cosmic Christ”. Also, the Catechism tells us that what we mean when we say that Jesus ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, is that Jesus took our human nature into Heaven where He now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us.

Applying Reason, we believe in
an omnipotent, omniscient and
OMNIPRESENT God, therefore
God, who is both 3 and 1 (more
on that on Trinity Sunday) is
always with us.

So, yes, Jesus is with us. But we are people of meaning-making; human beings need to make meaning out of what we know and believe, and we do that through rituals. The Church has affirmed for least 1,600 years that we are assured an encounter with Jesus through the ritual of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, which we call the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving. We have been banned from our most sacred ritual because fear has taken over. BUT, at the beginning of this pandemic, I preached and wrote that we are not people of fear, but people of hope. We now, yet again, need to pivot, repent, turn toward hope: we need to be Easter People, be Advent People, and find a way to be Sacramental People and discover the outward and visible signs that will assure us an inward and spiritual grace. We will search for that together, and Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us in that. It will require us to overcome our disappointment, anger and confusion.

 

Let me share a somewhat related anecdote about my time in the Church of England. It was when I was in seminary that Gene Robinson became the Bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay and partnered bishop in the Anglican Communion. As many of you know, the fallout was terrible. It was a huge topic of discussion in my seminary in Cambridge, England.

 

Every Wednesday in seminary, a different student would host our Tutor Group for Morning Prayer and breakfast. One Wednesday in December, I hosted after I had decorated my room for the holiday season. During the breakfast, my Personal Tutor took out her aspergillum, the thing used to sprinkle holy water, and blessed my Christmas lights.

 

Later that day, a conversation was sparked: priests can bless Christmas lights, they can bless cars, we even have a Blessing of a Home in our authorized liturgies, but they could not bless the loving union of two persons of the same sex, or indeed ordain people like Gene Robinson. That’s no longer true for us in The Episcopal Church. Couples of persons of the same sex can get married in our churches. But in the CofE, my clergy friends can bless as many inanimate objects as they like, but not the loving union between 2 men or 2 women. Scripture was applied; Tradition was applied; but Reason was thrown out of the conversation.

 

Similarly, here today, I could bless anything I so desire during this service, and that blessing could be livestreamed around the globe. But I cannot lead you in the 2k-year-old tradition of blessing bread and wine, the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace of the Body and Blood of Christ given to His people. This is not a churchwide ban; my sister in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is engaging with the Sacrament in some form at this very moment. As I mentioned earlier, Scripture, Tradition and Reason have been abandoned, as has the thinking person’s quality that our denomination has been known for.

 

It has been difficult enough for many of to not be able to receive the Sacrament during this time of shelter-at-home. Yet, you have adjusted to Eucharistic Adoration. Some of you have told me how meaningful it has been during this unprecedented and turbulent time. And yes, it is absolutely true that the omnipotent Triune God has not abandoned us and remains with each and all of us always.

 

But we need our rituals, the rituals that connect us with Jesus of Nazareth and His first followers. This is not just about the Last Supper, but it’s our connection with Jesus and the real people who were at Feeding of the 5,000, the Road to Emmaus after the Resurrection and the grilled fish on the beach. Jesus knew that He was no longer going to be physically present with His followers, so He instituted what we know as the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Every Sunday in the universal Church’s history, and in many places, every day, since the Anaphora of St Basil in the 4C, Christians around the world have united themselves with the Ascended Jesus:

 

Making Himself known in the breaking of the bread,
speaking peace to the fearful disciples, welcoming weary fishermen on the shore,
He renewed the promise of His presence and of new birth in the Spirit
who sets the seal of freedom on God’s sons and daughters.


Before He was given up to suffering and death,
recalling the night of Israel’s release, the night in which slaves walked free,
at supper with His disciples Jesus took bread and offered thanks.
He broke the bread, and gave it to them, saying:
“Take, eat. This is my Body: it is broken for you.”


After supper, He took the cup, He offered thanks, and gave it to them saying:
“Drink this, all of you.
This is my Blood of the new covenant;
it is poured out for you, and for all, that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in remembrance of me.”


{fromScottish Liturgy 1982 with Alternative Eucharistic Prayers, Scottish Episcopal Church}

 

That has been taken away for now; the clergy have been robbed of their vocations; the people have been dealt yet another pastoral blow during the most challenging time since the Great Depression. Episcopal Churches in other Dioceses, including my sister’s in LA, continue to gather online around the Sacrament, while we are deprived of it, even though we have online access to those services. It boggles the mind. But, while we grieve, and while we may be angry, let us know that Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit, our advocate and guide, our comforter.

 

Throughout shelter-at-home, the Bishop has encouraged all clergy to model C-I-A — Connection, Information, Agency. The Vestry, Staff and I are desperately trying to keep you all connected. You are sent up-to-date and accurate information weekly. And by “agency”, it means personal responsibility and mature leadership. Over the coming days, the Vestry and Staff can have a discussion about what personal responsibility and mature leadership are with regard to what we do on Sundays.

 

It’s a really messed up time. Our faith in Jesus and our strength as the St Stephen’s Family will guide us through this. Maintain your private prayer at home, and join us here on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays to stay connected and to pray together.


Jesus may be working from
 home, but He has sent us the
Holy Spirit to be our advocate,
our guide and our comforter.


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