Thursday, June 05, 2014

Jesus Ascended: Then What?

The clergy at St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, GA have made a concerted effort to get us to fired up about the couple dozen weeks of "ordinary time" between Pentecost and Advent.  It's working for me. 

They started their campaign with a special Thursday evening mass for Ascension.  It's one of the great seven festival days of the church, our clergy told us, right up there with Christmas and Easter.  I read in Forward Day by Day that Ascension Day is a holiday in some countries, but I've never paid attention.  This time, we sang "Hail Thee, Festival Day" full-throttle.

To relate Ascension to us, associate rector Fr. Daron Vroon began his sermon by describing a stained-glass window depicting apostles looking upward at Jesus' receding feet. Vroon suggested that we get a better deal than those who knew Jesus just as a physical presence. 

In a sermon on Ascension Sunday, rector Fr. Roger Allen elaborated: the Apostles didn't "get it" until Jesus was gone.  The change came when they received "the advocate" a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, two insufficient substitutes for the untranslatable word "paraklete."  Then their ministry to the world began.
As he spoke, a bird that had slipped into the church fluttered about the nave, but Fr. Allen quipped that this was fitting, not just because the Spirit is often depicted as a bird, but because his spell-check kept turning his words into a sermon about the "parakeet."

Now that Ascension is past, and the celebration of paraklete's arrival comes Sunday, this is "our time."  Fr. Allen explains in his latest newsletter that the time is called "ordinary" not in the sense of "average" but in the sense of "ordinal," having to do with numbers, simply because the Sundays are known by their number of weeks after Pentecost.  The readings for this season celebrate "the mystery of Christ in our daily lives" and instruct us "how to live out our Christian faith,"...
We spend time with the struggles of the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and reflecting on the advice and instructions in the letters to the Hebrews, to the Galatians, to Titus, and the letter of James.  In the Daily Office, we remember and are called to emulate the lives of saints past.  The whole focus of this time is to connect what we have recalled and celebrated earlier in the year (the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost) with our own lives and the world in which we live. (Fr. Roger Allen, The Word, June 2014)

Instead of vacation time, Fr. Allen says, it's a time when we should be "very, very busy" fulfilling our Baptismal vows (Book of Common Prayer 304-305).   He himself is busy "preaching the Gospel to little sea creatures" on a beach in Jamaica, says our Fr. Vroon, and will be refreshed when he gets back for Pentecost. 

See my reflection upon Ascension Day in 2017, "Up to Us."

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