Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday after Ascension Sermon Notes

When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me”.+

Here we find a glorious revelation of the activity of the Holy Trinity. The Son who in the same Gospel calls himself “the Truth” (14:6), sends the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father. The Holy Spirit is thus the Spirit of the Son (as well as being sent by the Son and testifying of the Son) just as much as He is “from” the Father. Thus the Father who is obviously the Source of the Son is also the Source of the Holy Spirit in a distinct way, one which intrinsically involves the Son.

At the same time as we touch upon this mystery, reverentially and cautiously if we are wise, we are encouraged by its operation in our lives. The Jesus who has ascended in his Humanity, resurrected body and soul, to the Father, whose ascension we are presently celebrating, has sent the Holy Spirit to us. Not just to the first disciples. To us. The Spirit brings with him the life He shares with the Father and the Son, of whom He is, and grants us this life.

He testifies of the Son, our Lord and Saviour, in many ways. Through the Scriptures, which He inspired, as received and understood within the Church, which He continues to guide, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is known. Through the lives of those faithful to God and through continuing signs and wonders, He shines forth the Gospel light in deed as well as in word. In the hearts and minds of men and women and, yes, even children, He challenges, educates and enlightens, reforms and strengthens.

These benefits are a direct result of the Ascension of the Lord. He leaves this world, this “kosmos” to use the Greek word, and goes to prepare a place for us (14:2): a new Heaven and Earth in one (Revelation 21), an almost unimaginable reality both physical and spiritual. It is from this place of exaltation (which one could say already exists in seed-form where Jesus is, in the presence of the Father), that He sends the Comforter. His Ascension after the Resurrection, becoming invisible to us in his humanity, which may seem at first like a loss and a disappointment, is in fact a necessary and joyous event. It is both a sign of his true identity and “home”, and a promise of what is to come after a period of transition. Jesus prayed to the Father “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am” (John 17:24). For the time being His presence with us is real but incomplete. He is with us always, “even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), in and through the Spirit, word and sacrament, and the Church: but we await his visible presence, his “Appearing” as the Bible calls his Second Coming (1 Timothy 6:14).

The paradox and tension of our Lord being with us yet away from us thus parallels the paradox that when He returns to us it will be just as much our elevation to Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17, Philippians 3:20). And I use the word tension very delberately. The Ascension tells us that we are living in the time of transition, the waiting time, and that the connection between us and Christ is like a spring under tension, ready to snap back and re-unite us fully, at a time we know not. The great Reconciliation and Reckoning was in one sense completed at the Cross and Empty Tomb, at Calvary, where Judgement and Mercy met in one great divine and human act, and where humanity's union with God was achieved on its behalf. But the completion and full manifestation of this Truth, which underlies and empowers already the Christian walk, is still to come.

And we need to feel this tension, to take it seriously. The Christ who has ascended expects us to be with Him already, by faith and in the Spirit, looking at this existence from the Heavenly perspective (Colosians 3:1-4). That means to see its temporariness, its provisional nature, its fragility. It means to see both earthly happiness and suffering as a relatively brief preparation for eternal joy, and as a means to growth in holiness as we acknowledge God's Providence in gratitude and submission. It means to see the shadow of imminent judgement and the grace of forgiveness offered to all. It means that we have hope.

The other side of this tension is to remember that we are still here in the mean time, and have a work to do for the Most High King, which he will enable us to perform as we trust in Him (Ephesians 2:10). By the power of the gift of the Holy Spirit, given “from above” by our Lord, we journey onwards towards the high goal (Philippians 3:10-14), Christ before us. We “see” him now as the Man of the Cross (Galatians 3:1) and take up our cross as part of the journey (Matthew 16:24), yet with the joy of knowing that even this yoke is light and shared (Matthew 11:28-30).

And if we do not know this tension, this pull towards the Ascended One, whether we are yet to connect to Him or whether we have virtually severed the link that once was, let us “look up” and reach out to the Saviour. He still fulfills his Kingly promises and still reaches down to us in love and might. +

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