Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Short Homily on the Ascension

A Short Homily Preached in St. Bede’s Chapel
on the Feast of the Ascension
May 5, 2016
Fr. Michael LaRue

Acts 1:8 “You will receive power, after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judaea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Ascension is, of all feasts in my lifetime, the one with which we seem to have the most problem.  It is a feast which is shunted off and minimalized (the great majority  of our poor brethren in the Roman Communion in this country cannot even celebrate it on the day).  Why is this?  I think the reason is this passage, the last of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances and the account of his going into Heaven (that is, of going from us and into that place where he is fully in the presence of God his Father). We have a hard time, because this passage [Acts 1:1-11], and the whole thing that it discusses, Resurrection and Ascension, just seem incredible.

Can we believe it?  That is, can we believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, that he was visible, touchable, that he ate with his disciples, and finally that he rose up, in their view, and out of their sight, to go to a place which — as we would put it — does not exist in this physical universe.  If we are to believe his testimony, St. Luke certainly believed so, and went to great lengths to find out whether this it is true. Our problem in believing this comes, I believe, from the fact that  the Bible has been so misused in our time that we have a hard time trusting it.  But I do not think that the misuse of Scripture is a good reason for rejecting Scripture — and I think there are good reasons for accepting it.

I do not have time in this short homily to go over all the arguments, but I will cite a couple.  Bishop J.A.T. Robinson, not a person noted as a great conservative, wrestled with these same problems, and came to the conclusion that Acts (like, as he contends, the rest of the New Testament) must have been written fairly early, certainly before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Commenting on this, Fr. Eric Mascall points out that, therefore, Luke’s claim to have examined the evidence and talked to the witnesses becomes even more credible. 

 From another perspective, let us take Fr. Reginald Fuller, from whom I had the pleasure of learning, who was not only not a fundamentalist, but who was a student of the best known of the higher critics, Rudolf Bultmann. He demonstrated that according to the most rigorous application of the historico-critical method, the Resurrection appearances belong to the eariest layer of the Kerygma, that is of the Church’s preaching.  In short, according to Bultmann’s own method, the Resurrection cannot be demythologized as Bultmann wished.  I have given us two reasons why I think we must face the historicity of the Resurrection.  If you want a fuller argument, I would recommend reading Bp. N.T. Wright’s works on this subject.  

This leaves us with two choices.  Either we accept that the Resurrection appearances happened, or, if we reject the possibility of the bodily Resurrection and Ascension on a priori grounds,  we have the problem of a sizeable number of people sharing the same set of inexplicable mass hallucinations.  

It is not easy for many to accept, but if we accept the almost incredible fact of the Resurrection and Ascension, and the witness of Christians throughout almost two millennia to the transforming power of the Risen Jesus, then we have consequences from today’s passage to deal with.  We cannot minimalize this feast and what it has to say to us, as we have done.  We cannot allow ourselves to have a comfortable Jesus of our own imaginings, who walks only with us, and just for us.  We cannot have a Jesus in our pockets.  We have a Jesus who reigns, who is Lord and King not just of our lives, not of an earthly Israel, but of the whole cosmos.  

We have a Lord, according to today’s passage, who teaches us commandments, commandments that he expects us to follow.  And we are not powerless to follow these commandments.  We have a Lord, according to today’s passage, who gives power to those who trust in Him.  Think about that.  There is, if Christianity is true, there nothing more empowering than being a follower of Jesus the Christ, because we have power, and not any power, but the power of God, the Holy Spirit living in us.  And this power is to be his witnesses, to the ends of the earth.  

So why we standing here gawking?  We have work to do. 

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