Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
May 28, 2017
The Seventh Sunday of Easter – Year A
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
We last encountered this morning’s mysterious “two men in white” at Jesus’ empty tomb, in the eerie half-light of early Easter morning, as the myrrh-bearing women made their way there to anoint Jesus’ hastily buried corpse. There, the two men posed a question to Jesus’ distraught and grieving disciples: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise. And they remembered his words, according to Saint Luke’s Gospel, and returning from the tomb they told this to the Eleven and to all the rest.”
This morning, in the reading from Acts of the Apostles, part II of Saint Luke’s Gospel, we hear that forty days later—always a penitential period in the biblical idiom—the Eleven are now with Jesus on the Mount of Olives just before his Ascension to “the right hand of the Father.” (BCP) They are nervous and perplexed, so they ask the risen Jesus: “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel.” Alas, Jesus reminds them, “It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” Instead, the Apostles—like us the baptized—are to be about the work of discipleship and evangelism: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” Jesus tells them, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Ever obtuse, Jesus’ followers still don’t understand that they will be receiving a “power” far greater than the restoration to ancient Israel’s glory days. They will become—like us—witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his inauguration of the “kingdom of God”!
So, once again, enter the “two men in white”: messengers from the Holy One, blessed be He. As the apostles watch Jesus disappear from their view, these two mysterious figures pose yet another timely question, this time to the awestruck band of disciples: “Men of Galilee,” they ask, “why are you looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” In other words, don’t worry: the risen Christ is no longer constrained by time and place and matter. After his “lifting up” and glorification on the Cross “for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins,” (BCP) the risen Jesus is everywhere in all times and places and people and circumstances. He “has gone to prepare a place for you” and he now lives forever to make intercession for us before his heavenly Father, in whose “house there are many dwelling places.” And he is as close to us as our own breath. He—the innocent and forgiving victim of humankind’s sin and sacred violence—has taken our fragile and wounded humanity into the very life of God. We are no longer strangers, but sisters and brothers of Christ, and daughters and sons of God. We directly encounter our Savior’s “Real Presence” in our life of prayer and in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
Well, if this is the truth; if Jesus really does teach us how to be human; if he reveals humanity to itself; then why do we “seek the living among the dead”? Why are we “looking up toward heaven”? Are we expecting the “Kingdom of God” and the “New Jerusalem” to descend from the heavens like a pre-fab?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, we know that Jesus rose victorious from the grave and ascended into the full presence of God so that he might fill ALL people, places, and things with himself. God has made us partners in an as yet unfinished Creation, and there is much work for humankind yet to do in service to “tikkun olam,” the “repair of the world.” The “kingdom of God” is already among us in Jesus Christ; “eternal life” is now; and the “resurrection of the dead” is the new life in Christ, begun in time for each one of us, and brought to fulfillment and perfection in eternity. As the great Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has written, “If the ‘living Christ’ and ‘the kingdom of God’ are not found right here and right now, then you will not find them anywhere else.” Our lives are a continuous journey into the larger life of God, that Horizon of gracious and loving Mystery, and our progress in the “life of the world to come” (BCP) is related to the quality of our spiritual journey in this world of time and history. In the end, we will receive from the hands of Christ not what we deserve—thanks be to God—but what we have come to expect. And the eyes of our heart will see only what we have prepared them to see. The best preparation for the future is a life of faith and hope and love—the three “theological virtues” that bind us to God—in the here and the now. For, as emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has written, “Without the Creator, the creature fades to nothingness.”
On this Seventh Sunday of Easter, we come to the end of the great Church year’s annual celebration of the Incarnation, Ministry, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word and Wisdom and Power of God. And just as God, through Moses, reminded the covenant people of Israel, at another revelation of God’s eternal Word in the Torah at Mount Sinai, “Surely, this Torah which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens that you should say ‘Who among us will go up to the heavens to get it for us, and impart it to us, that we may observe it.’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us, and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to observe it,” so our “two men in white” remind us again this morning not to “seek the living among the dead” or to “look up toward heaven” for our salvation. The risen, ascended, and glorified Jesus, the “cosmic Christ,” is with us always—especially at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist—and we are his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
So, let us, the baptized, go forth from this church today as joyful and fully committed missionary disciples and evangelists, praising God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ through lives of prayer, service, and evangelism, even as we anticipate the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit in power to re-create us and to “renew the face of the earth” (BCP) next Sunday at Pentecost. For we, the baptized, are already “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”! (BCP) So for what are we waiting?