2020 May 24 Seventh Sunday of Easter and Ascension, In times like these

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Opening Prayer

Apart in body through the scourge of this virus,
keep us together in Spirit, one Body in Christ,
who was sent for the salvation of the human race.
Amen.

Reflection: In times like these

What must it have been like, those days between the resurrection and Pentecost? A roil of emotions: shock, relief, fear (the Romans were still not happy), joy, confusion, uncertainty about the future. Then this: he is leaving again, ascending into heaven. For real this time, though last time it seemed for real too. Now what?

He had given instructions: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). So there would be more waiting….until they received power. These are not the clearest of instructions. And they were still living in a time dangerous to them. I would have many questions: When will the power come? What will it look like? Will it be safe to be a witness to the living Christ? How will we do that?

We too are now waiting in a dangerous time. Wondering when, if ever, it will be safe to resume our normal activities, our visits to family and friends, public worship, travel. Wondering if we will be saved from this virus. Wondering what worship will look and feel like once we decide to go back into the building. We have lots of questions.

Now what? we ask. We can take a cue from the rest of the Acts passage. After Jesus’ ascension the disciples went back to their lives in Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer. This reminds me that these waiting times, these times of unknowing, are times for the kind of prayerful attention to life that will give us the resources to find our way ahead. Spending quiet time in reflection and prayer feeds us in deep ways and helps us to react thoughtfully to stressors.

The author of 1 Peter gives us more help. He is writing to a community in the midst of the persecution of “a fiery ordeal” (1 Peter 4:12). He gives pointers about how to survive a difficult time of suffering. First, when you are sore afraid and hurting, consider that Jesus too was sore afraid and hurting. He has walked this path before us. We are sharing in his suffering. We never do that alone. He is present to us in our pain. Second, accept that we are vulnerable and that we are not in control. That is the human condition. Cast all your anxiety on Christ. Keep alert, we are told, and control what you can, i.e., control your own words and actions. Finally, remember that many others around the world are suffering. We truly are not alone, and some have it worse than us. We are counselled to look past ourselves to the needs of others.

There is a Buddhist practice called tonglen, “taking and sending”, that does just that. Seated quietly, with our in-breath we take in the suffering of the world (the pain of someone we know, what we read or hear in the news, or any suffering). With our out-breath we send out love, care, healing or whatever is needed. A Christian practice would be to breathe in the love (or peace or joy or healing) of God, and then to breathe it out directed to a specific person or people. Or imagine the risen Christ, radiant with healing in his wings, filling yourself or someone you know. Let the light shine within the body. These kinds of practices work within us to develop our compassion and prepare us to be witnesses to the love of God as Jesus instructed. They also take us out of the preoccupation with ourselves that so often hampers us. The Spirit will use our heartfelt prayers.

I think of Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer, towering over the city of Rio de Janeiro. His arms outstretched hold all pain and suffering; his heart overflows with love. This is cross-shaped living: our eyes on him, our feet rooted in the earth, our arms outstretched in love and pain.

Now what? the disciples asked and we ask. Open your arms, Christ says, with me. Hold the world with all its pain and possibility. Breathe in the love of God. Breathe out that love onto the world.

God bless us in our waiting, our wondering and our witnessing. Amen.

HYMN R&S 33 Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory

Eternal God, your love’s tremendous glory
cascades through life in overflowing grace,
to tell creation’s meaning in the story
of love evolving love from time and space.

Eternal Son of God, uniquely precious,
in you, deserted, scorned and crucified,
God’s love has fathomed sin and death’s deep darkness,
and flawed humanity is glorified.

Eternal Spirit, with us like a mother,
embracing us in love serene and pure:
you nurture strength to follow Christ our brother,
as full-grown children, confident and sure.

Love’s trinity, self-perfect, self-sustaining;
love which commands, enables and obeys:
you give yourself, in boundless joy, creating
one vast increasing harmony of praise.

We ask you now, complete your image in us;
this love of yours, our source and guide and goal.
May love in us seek love and serve love’s purpose,
till we ascend with Christ and find love whole.

Alan Gaunt (1935- )

Blessing

May the love, peace and purposes of God
which come to us in the outstretched arms of Jesus
fill our hearts and overflow from our lives.
Amen.

CCL No. 213535 / One Licence A-632495

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