Thanks, and back next week!
Have a safe Memorial Day and give thanks for those who gave their lives for our liberties.
Thanks, and back next week!
On the Sunday following the Day of Pentecost, before we launch off into the long period of “ordinary time,” we pause to look back at where we have been and forward to the hope of where we are going. And to marvel at the mysteries of time and space as we encounter them in our relationship with God.
This is “Trinity Sunday,” when in the liturgical time of the Church year we have encountered the Father as manifested in the incarnated, risen, and ascended Jesus Christ and then received the promised Holy Spirit. So on this day, we reflect on the triune nature of the one God we worship. This doesn’t have to be difficult and arcane; it can be a wonder-filled acknowledgement of the incomprehensibility of eternity and creation-and of the love that binds and moves it all.
We live in time and particularity, and Jesus came to live with us in this way. Our reading this week from the book of Proverbs reminds us that God exists above and beyond time; the lady Wisdom who speaks in our reading tells us about her creation before the actual work of creating the particular world began. She observed and participated in God’s creative work, the work we read about in the beginning of the book of Genesis. When we affirm our faith each week in the Nicene Creed, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, has been eternally of one being with the Father, with him in making all things that were made. God sent Christ into the broken creation of time and matter to live and die as one of us, so that we could be drawn into God through Christ. Then, he returned to the Father, although he still dwells in us through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus alludes to this mediating presence in his words to the disciples in our reading from the gospel of John. The Spirit is present with us to lead and to help us understand the truths that Jesus gave us, but which we have not yet been able to understand. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that this Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts, and it is through this love that we are able to come to the truth in God, not through our own intellect or understanding.
Paul also reminds us that we will come to share in the glory of God in eternity. The Holy Spirit leads us toward this hoped for eternal life by infusing this particular life with the power of God’s love. This is almost too much to hold in our thoughts and comprehend, but we can hold this as an unknowable faith that will allow us the freedom to love and give in this world. Look above and beyond to the Trinity, and then look out into the world and feel the power of the Trinity’s love, even and especially in times of trouble and darkness.
This Sunday will mark fifty days after Easter, hence it’s name, “The Day of Pentecost,” meaning “the fiftieth day.” For the devout Jews we will read about in the book of Acts, this day would have been the Feast of Weeks, established in Leviticus 23:15-21 as the feast at which the first fruits of the corn harvest were presented. Also in Jewish tradition, the law was given on this day. In the Christian tradition, this day is the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. After Easter, this day ranks as the second great festival of the Church; it has traditionally been a secondary date for baptism, and for this reason the day is also referred to as “Whitsunday” because of the white robes worn by the newly baptized on that day.
More recently, this day has been emphasized as the opening of salvation to all races and nations throughout the world. Both our first reading from Genesis and our second reading from Acts draw attention to the varieties of languages among peoples on the earth. In the story of the building of the Tower of Babel, God sees the people of the earth, who then all speak one language, creating a structure that will save them from being scattered. God’s response to this is to go down and confuse their language, giving them many, and then to scatter them all over the earth. This is the final step in God’s creation of a culturally mature civilization, with multiple territories and language groups.
The complexity, challenge, and struggle presented to the spread of the gospel by this situation is overcome by the coming of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of Acts. After the violent rushing wind and the tongues of flame come upon the Apostles, they begin to speak in other languages (not tongues) through power given them by the Holy Spirit. These languages are understood by their respective native speakers among the gathered faithful, allowing them to hear about God’s great saving deeds in their own languages.
Our gospel reading from John takes this gift of knowing from knowing about (“hearing”) to truly knowing (“seeing”). Jesus tells his disciples that being in relationship with him has put them in relationship with God, as Jesus mediates the relationship between God and the disciples. Once Jesus has ascended to the Father, he tells them, they will know him (Jesus, their mediator) through the Advocate whom he will send to “abide” in those who “know him.” This Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will them mediate the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.
It is our abiding in Jesus through the Holy Spirit common to us all that unites us in common bonds of love that transcend all differences, even the difference between the living and the dead. This great Sunday in the life of the Church reminds us of the essential unity in which we live, no matter how different we may seem to be.
Thursday, May 5, 2016 is not just Cinco de Mayo. In the Christian Church this particular May 5 also happens to be Ascension Day, a major feast of our calendar kept on the sixth Thursday, i.e. the fortieth day, after Easter. In the first chapter of Acts, we hear that after 40 days of post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, Jesus spoke to them about the coming of the Holy Spirit and his own departure to go to the Father-then he was taken up in a cloud. This was the Ascension of Christ.
Because of this, the seventh Sunday after Easter is also known as the Sunday After the Ascension, or Ascension Sunday. Although the lectionary readings for this Sunday do not directly address Jesus’ ascending to the Father, they do carry forward some of its themes.
The reading from Acts 16 continues the missionary expedition to Philippi of Macedonia that we began last week. Paul and Silas, after freeing a slave-girl of a spirit of divination, are thrown into prison at the instigation of her disgruntled owners, who turn the crowd against the two by accusing them of disturbing the city. Deep in the night, as Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns, an earthquake comes and opens the prison doors, shakes the foundation, and unfastens the prisoners’ chains. The jailer despairs for his job and his life, but then he sees that Paul and Silas have remained inside! They are there as witnesses of the power of God. The jailer and his family (again, a whole household) become believers and are baptized. Here is what happens when Jesus’ promise and his charge made before the Ascension are realized: the Holy Spirit acts to empower and direct, and his disciples carry out his mission of taking the Good News to the whole world.
The book of Revelation concludes with the second reading for this week. In it, Jesus speaks, identifying himself as the source of John’s vision and promising that he is “coming soon.” The Spirit and the Church eagerly receive this news, saying “Come.” The writer concludes by echoing them: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” This is an affirmation of Jesus’ promise before his Ascension that after that event he would come again to gather to himself the whole world.
Jesus’ prayer in John’s gospel actually occurs prior to his arrest and his Passion, but it echoes his words in Acts 1, where he delivers his charge to his disciples, describing their mission to the world and promising that they would see his glory. He promises that his love will be in them and that they will be sent out to make that love known.
Next Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, Easter season will come to an end, and we will all experience the coming of the Holy Spirit to carry us through the days ahead until Christ’s coming again. This Ascension Sunday is the prelude to that event.
The Very Reverend Beverly Gibson, Ph.D., Dean of the Cathedral