I think the point of the Ascension is two-fold:
First – Accept responsibility for your life and your world.
Second – There is, in God, peace, love, harmony and justice. Accept that even with all your best efforts and those of millions of others, you will not bring complete peace, harmony, love and justice to the world or even fully to your own life. That is in God’s time and God’s way.
The two men in white robes wanted to know, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11) And Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3)
Every parish has the immature and tentative of faith (those staring into the skies for comfort) and their seeming opposite (those insisting we must change the world and they know exactly how Jesus would do that). Those who step aside from responsibility because the Christ will provide for us and those who no longer believe that he either fills all things or that God provides many mansions for us.
The presence of all these Christians is a sign of a healthy and faithful parish church. The Holy Catholic Church is all the baptized—the apostolic and the immature, the stable sacramental and the tentative, the Christmas and Easter people and those progressing toward a more apostolic faith and practice. The church is a mixed bag. That's the shape of the parish church.
The Feast of the Ascension is, as are all feast days, a proclamation and practice of apostolic faith. To celebrate the Ascension is one more act of participating in the Divine Life and shaping an apostolic parish climate in which all may, for a moment, experience God’s glory and power. The Apostolic are fed, the tentative given a glimpse.
Bishop Benhase of Georgia presiding and preaching at an Ascension Eucharist and confirmation pointed those being confirmed to that apostolic faith and practice:
Tonight as we celebrate our Lord’s Ascension, we also celebrate the privilege (and it profoundly is) that our Lord has given us to leave the safety of this place so that we can be the hands and heart of Jesus; so we can be the Body of Christ in this world that God so loves.
For those being confirmed tonight: Let’s be clear, you aren’t receiving a heavenly life insurance policy in your confirmation. I don’t lay hands on your head so you’ll be removed from the tough places. No, you’re actually being commissioned to be a part of the living, breathing Body of Christ so that you can leave the safety of the church to go to those tough places and witness to the liberating and life-giving love of God incarnated in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
Jesus tonight isn’t removing you from the struggle. In your confirmation, he’s actually bidding you to follow him into those tough places knowing you go there ‘with power from on high.’ The full sermon PDF
Presidents are powerful people with great responsibilities
Yesterday President Obama was at West Point speaking to the first class of cadets since 9/11who will not be going to Afghanistan. He spoke of a policy of foreign affairs and military force that was his attempt to create a rationale and way forward for our times. He is a man accepting responsibility for his life and his world.
President Reagan was of another time, a time when we faced different challenges. His approach was really twofold. One element was to reduce the danger of nuclear war, and the other was to exhaust the Soviet Union. He contributed to both. He, too, was a person accepting responsibility for his life and his world.
At the funeral of President Reagan—not my favorite president, maybe my least favorite president of modern times—his body is being brought down the aisle of the cathedral by warriors without weapons. In front of it all is the crucifer and torchbearers. And the music of the recessional is from a movie starring Mel Gibson. From a distance it’s rather funny—the movie star president going out to the sound of a movie’s theme song.
I saw it on Tube – it’s actually touching and dramatic. Great liturgy.
It’s the other part of the paradox—we die and things are not finished. The world hasn’t come to justice, peace and harmony. We have lived our vocation and now we give ourselves in trust to the Christ who has gone before us, the God with many places in which we may dwell.
The recessional hymn that day has in it these lines:
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing ..
No more weeping,
No more fight,
No friends bleeding through the night ..
Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,..
This is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer[ii]
In June 1964 college students arrived for basic training at the Western College for Woman in Oxford, Ohio. Six hundred of them came from all areas of the country. They were all middle class kids, about 85% of them were white. Up until then it was mostly the black college students that had carried the battle in the South. As they gathered they talked in small groups about what they would be doing--voter registration, teaching in Freedom Schools, staffing community centers, changing the South, struggling for justice and liberty.
Many in the group felt as though they were being sent to Mississippi as sacrificial lambs. They all knew--students, trainers, veterans of the struggles and leaders of the civil rights groups--they all knew that the needed publicity and federal involvement was only going to come if there were white victims. It was simply a truth. And the feelings had to be worked through. That was part of what the week of training was about. Bob Moses was the director of the summer project.
He spoke to the students, "When you come South you will bring with you the concerns of the country--because the people of the country don't identify with Negroes." He told them about how because whites where involved a team of FBI agents was going to Mississippi to investigate. "We have been asking for them for three years. Now the federal government is concerned; there will be more protection for us, and hopefully for the Negroes who live there." Moses went on speaking about the task at hand--no worker could carry guns, and what if a gun was the only way to protect people, arrest and jail, the lack of money. He then moved in another direction. "There is an analogy to the Plague, by Camus. The country isn't willing yet to admit it has the plague, but it pervades the whole society. Everyone must come to grips with this, because it affects us all. We must discuss it openly and honestly, even with the danger that we get too analytical and tangled up. If we ignore it, its going to blow up in our faces."
There was an interruption in the back of the room. Bob Moses bent down to listen. "In a moment he was alone again. Still crouched, he gazed at the floor at his feet, unconscious of us. Time passed. When he stood and spoke, he was somewhere else; it was simply that he was obliged to say something, but his voice was automatic. 'Yesterday morning, three of our people left Meridian, Mississippi, to investigate a church-burning in Neshoba County. They haven't come back yet, and we haven't any word from them." The missing workers were James Chaney (CORE), Michael Schwerner (CORE) and Andrew Goodman (Summer Project).
The 600 were accepting responsibility for their lives and their world. And now they knew they faced danger and along with courage and skill, they needed hope.
We live in a time when most of us believe that everything can be controlled. At least a part of us does, some of the time.
It's obvious what to do about the mass murder in California isn't it?
Keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. No, give more people guns so that the sane people can shoot the crazy people. No, it's really about confronting sexism and misogyny. No, it's about managing angry, loner males
The pictures seem all-too-familiar –people in procession holding candles, tacky shrines at the place of death, young people kneeling in a church. All images of relentless grief.
And then there are the other images – not really images – words, and more words --all the talkers. All the people coming up with the solutions – if only we would ... if only we would do what I say, all will be well.
All will be well
When Julian was around 30 years old she was close to death. During her illness she had 15 visions or “showings.” She spent the rest of her life trying to understand the meaning of the visions.
Some 15 years after the showings, she wrote this –
And from the time that [the vision] was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord's meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: 'Would you know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.'
Thus I was taught that love was our Lord's meaning.
Her learning was that whatever God does is done in Love, and therefore "that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." All is well not because we get the answers right. All is well not because we work so hard. Rather, “all is well” because we go where the Christ has gone, we go to the Mansions of the Lord.
Parish churches and the Ascension
I hope you have celebrated the Feast of the Ascension in your parish today. And if not, you place it on the schedule for next year. It’s one of the seven principle feasts of the church. He is raised and the Spirit dwells in the church—and in between all that comes the Ascension of Christ—the experience of abandonment, responsibility and hope. He has prepared “a place for us; that where he is, there we might also be, and
reign with him in glory.”
It’s OK if there are only 4 or 5 people at today’s mass. Offer it for all the baptized and give thanks for all who accept responsibility. In our age it may be a celebration for the apostolic of the parish that feeds them for their place within the Body of Christ.
The point of the Ascension is two-fold
First – Accept responsibility for your life and your world.
Second – There is, in God, peace, love, harmony and justice. Accept that even with all your best efforts and those of millions of others – you will not bring complete peace, harmony, love and justice to the world or even fully to your own life. That is in God’s time and God’s way.
Order of the Ascension
I’m a member of the Order of the Ascension. OA sees its charism as being the development of parish churches grounded in Anglican pastoral and ascetical theology, especially Benedictine spirituality. We also draw on the fields of organization development and organizational psychology.
There’s an earlier posting on this blog in which three members reflect on the ways in which the Order has supported their work and served as a vehicle for the expression of their vocation. Bishop Benhase adds another dimension whenhe writes:
Most of all, the Order has grounded me in the catholic faith through Benedictine practice. I’ve experienced God’s grace embodied in my sisters and brothers in the Order. They have loved me and stayed connected to me often in spite of myself and far beyond what I have deserved. We all need regular reminders that God’s one-way love is real in this world.
Developing healthy parish churches is the vocation of every parish priest and some of the baptized. If you share that vocation would you be strengthened by participation in the Order of the Ascension?
West Point Glee Club on Veteran’s Day (beginning at 44 sec)