Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on Easter, March 27, 2005
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Sermon preached by
The Rev. Ethan Cole
March 27, 2005
It's funny, but we don't seem to think about heaven too much in Church these days. Our concern is usually terrestrial. How ought we to live? What is God doing in my life right now? What is God calling me to? These are good questions, and are rightly the focus of much of our personal and communal reflections as Christians. However, over these past few days I have been thinking about heaven.
On Thursday we celebrated the feast of the Ascension, the lesson from Acts we heard this morning is the same lesson from that day. Jesus commissions the disciples to be his witnesses starting from Jerusalem and going to the ends of the earth. He promises the Holy Spirit to empower them in this mission of witnessing that he has given them, and is taken up into heaven. The creed says, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
There is a certain literalness about this that can be troubling. Did Jesus fly away into the sky? We now know that heaven is not "up." Where did Jesus go? In the sixteenth century debates about the nature of the Eucharist, protestant minded reformers in the Church of England claimed that the bread and wine of the Eucharist could not really be Christ's body and blood because as a note in the prayer book put it, "Christ body is in heaven and not here." There is a strictness to this kind of thinking that puts a damper on the mystery of faith.
So what do we mean when we say Christ ascended into heaven? I believe that Jesus as the ascension has gone to be with his Father, who is also our Father, who art in heaven. He has returned to the great glory from which he came, but he has not left us orphans as he tells us in John's gospel in another place than what we heard today. Jesus left this earth, left his disciples; he had been with them for forty days teaching and breaking bread with them. He left them so that he could be universally present. Instead of with a handful of his followers, by the power of his Holy Spirit he is present to the whole world, carried there by the witness of those who know him, and know that he is risen.
I believe that he has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. We will join our brother and Lord Christ in heaven in the Father's glory in due time. But for now, we wait for the power of the Holy Spirit that will come at Pentecost so we can be Christ's witnesses as he charged us to be when he left his disciples on that Ascension day. We who have known the power of the Resurrection are charged with being witnesses to it, showing with our words and actions that Christ is risen and he is changing our lives, and the whole world. Amen.
©2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York