Lectionary Reflections for Ascension Sunday, May 20, 2012
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 (include Acts 1:6-14): Psalm 1: I John 5:9-13: John 17:6-19
Today’s passages are an invitation to experience the intimacy of God in our daily tasks. Our vocations emerge from our encounters in this world and are fulfilled in following God’s way in our lives. We don’t need to long for a far off heaven when the whole earth is filled with divine glory and wisdom.
For the second week in a row, I am expanding the lectionary readings from Acts to provide greater context and meaning to today’s historical reading. In some congregations, this Sunday is also celebrated as Ascension Sunday. While the Ascension of Jesus can easily be relegated to a bygone era, with its images of a three-story, earth-centered universe, I include the passage as a reminder that our work as followers of Jesus is in the here and now, not in heaven or in expectation of the Second Coming or an apocalyptic disaster. Prognostications from radio and television evangelists as well as interpreters of the Mayan calendar have little relevance to Christian ethics and lifestyle. Our time is now, our place is here. The impact of our actions in this moment are limited by factors beyond our control, but nevertheless what we do makes a difference – and can be a tipping point – in global, communal, and personal well-being.
We don’t need to look up to the heavens, for this is the day that God has made; we rejoice in this unrepeatable day and do the work that is set before us by God in our historical context. If God present everywhere, then we are already in “heaven,” that is, in relationship to God right where we are.
The first followers of Jesus don’t immediately plunge back to work; they devote themselves to prayer as they await the call of the Spirit. A decision must be made in the leadership of the community. Candidates are selected to replace Judas, and the community returns again to prayerful discernment. Lots are cast and from this apparently random activity Matthias is chosen as the twelfth apostle. But, is the process of selection that random? In an era of Super PACs and manipulation by advertising in the political arena, the community’s synchronous approach to choosing its leadership may contain more than a little wisdom. For nearly thousand years, followers of Chinese religion have used sticks and coins to discern the wisdom of the I Ching, or Book of Changes. In life there are meaningful coincidences and chance encounters that prove to be sources of wisdom and personal transformation. Prayerfulness awakens intuition and enables us to discern consciously or unconsciously the path we should take.
Psalm 1 is a celebration of the Torah. Those who follow the Torah, the Law of God, are blessed, while those who turn away plunge into chaos and meaninglessness. Many Christians think of the Law in terms of legalism, of external and picayune rules regulating small and unimportant details. In contrast, Torah is intended to be a way of life in relationship to God. In a similar fashion, the Rule of St. Benedict can seem legalistic in its counsel on how to meet strangers, go to the market, give alms, and greet guests. But, these rules are intended to be an invitation to be mindful of Christ’s presence in every encounter. We can choose life or death each moment, and while we don’t need to be on duty 24/7, our mindfulness enables us to see and bring forth the holiness of every occasion.
The reading from John’s gospel describes Jesus praying for his followers, in the first century and throughout history. Recent studies on the effects of prayer suggest that prayer is a non-local phenomenon. Our prayers create a field of force around those for whom we pray, adding greater energy to their lives and, for those who believe in God’s ongoing and open-ended relationship with the world, enabling God to be more active in their lives. Quantum entanglement, or the intimate interdependence of the universe, invites us to let our imaginations loose as we read this passage: Could it be that Jesus’ prayers are still influencing our lives? Could it be that Jesus’ prayers aid us in times of challenge and danger, and provide the safety we need to be adventurous in fulfilling our vocations?
Jesus asserts that we are “holy” and not fully in this world. This is not escapism or denial of the physical world, but the affirmation that we are to live by a different set of values than the world in which we live. As Paul notes in Romans 12:2, “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” We can appreciate the goods of this life and the benefits of technology without falling prey to materialism or consumerism. We can make decisions based on blessing rather than consumption and coercion. We can be concerned about the well-being of the whole rather than our own self-interest.
Our task is live fully and adventurously today, claiming this moment as blessed by God and called to bless others out of the grace-filled abundance we have received.