Sermon Archives

Thursday, May 25, 2017
The Feast of the Ascension
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Even Eternity is Too Short to Extol Thee

Name him, Christians name him,
with love strong as death,
name with awe and wonder and with bated breath;
he is God the Savior, he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshiped, trusted, and adored.[1]

Tonight’s service, and the lessons which we have just heard which form the tableau of the Feast of the Ascension that gathers us, is among the most important feasts of our tradition.  So central to our life here at Christ Church is this feast, that the artists and architects who first worked to tell our story placed the Ascension of Christ at the forefront of our iconography and art, depicting Jesus’ last act of blessing and departure on the reredos before us.  Now, the importance of the feast is not limited to us, of course.  Listen closely to the words of tonight’s Eucharistic prayer (which we offer regularly on Sunday as well) and we will hear how pivotal the Ascension is in our understanding of Jesus as a Christian community – “recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts” – a gentle, yet regular reminder that these three events in the divine life Jesus are uniquely intertwined in our understanding and experience of Christ . . . not his birth, life, and resurrection; not his healings, miracles, and teachings; his death, resurrection, and ascension.  I’m sure some have already noted the Nicene Creed places an equal focus on these three events – “. . . he suffered death and was buried. / On the third day he rose again . . .; / he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

For millennia these three – the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ – have stood together at the heart of our community.  And we are wise to ask, why?

For millennia, we as a Christian community, have turned to these three stories as unique window in the person of Jesus and the mystery of God.  Here as we hear again the story of Jesus greatest power and glory – ascending in to the heavens to claim a seat at the right hand of God – we, like the disciples before us, are reminded again, just who it is we have been witnessing all this time.  This story is like a magnificent spotlight that shines on Jesus so that we can see him like we have never been seen him before, glorious in splendor and power, worthy of all praise and glory and adoration.

This is not unlike many of the psalms of the Old Testament which strive to reveal the great glory of the God of Israel who has given life and redemption to his people.

     The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it,*
               the world and all who dwell therein.

     For it is he who founded it upon the seas*
               and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.[2]

This is our God the psalmist proclaims, this is the one to whom we pray and the one to whom we give our lives. 

And a little further on, the psalmist proclaims again,

     Lift up your heads, O gates;
               lift them high, O everlasting doors;*
               and the King of glory shall come in.[3]

And so we says again tonight,

     Clap your hands, all you peoples;
               shout to God with a cry of joy. . .

     For God is king of all the earth;
               sing praises with all your skill.[4]

And there is but one response to such a God as this – not fear, not even strict obedience; but simply and wholly, worship and praise.  It mustn’t be lost on us that this the singular act of the disciples as the beheld his glory – worship and great joy.  All that follows in their life and disciples of Christ are but a living expression of their worship of God.  Even today, as we speak of serving the world, as we commit ourselves to loving our neighbor, as we struggle to take up our cross and to follow him, we do all this not out of obligation and mindless obedience to one more powerful than ourselves, but out of reverence and joy and praise for the God of all creation who humbled himself to take on our nature and to suffer death upon the cross out of love for you and for me.

Worship and praise, this is the principal act of Christian discipleship; all else follows from this. 

So often we think that our conduct is of supreme importance, and yet is worship that transforms us to our core, for in worship we submit ourselves to glory and splendor of God; in worship we surrender all that we are, all the grandeur of our mind and even the convictions of our will to the one whom we adore.  Here in worship we proclaim, Jesus, you are God and I am yours.

So let me close with a few words from George Herbert, words which may just capture the heart of our worship this night and all nights to come.

     King of Glory, King of Peace,
               I will love thee:

     And the cream of all my heart
               I will bring thee.

     Seven whole days, not one in seven,
               I will praise thee.

     Even eternity is to short
               To extoll thee.[5]

[1] Verse 4 from “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” The Hymnal, 1979

[2] Psalm 24:1-2

[3] Psalm 24:7

[4] Psalm 47:1,7

[5] Excerpts taken from “Praise II,” The Temple, George Herbert, 1633.