The Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day
16 May 2010
A sermon by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven: We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless, but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
The theology question on this year’s General Ordination Examinations—the five day ordeal through which all those who are preparing for ordination to the priesthood must pass—was explicitly on the subject of Atonement. It was a fairly complex question that the students were to answer with only the help of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and an non-electronic, annotated Bible. It took for its starting point the phrase from the Exsultet, “how blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.” Now, I know about all this because I have been asked to re-read, and possibly re-grade, some of the exams for the Bishop of New York. That being said, I am not going to share anyone else’s answers with you. Rather, I want to begin this reflection on the Gospel passage we read this morning that tells us how Jesus prayed that we might all be one, with my own reflection that, according to one of the most important historic texts that still lives in our liturgy, reconciliation with God is achieved in and through the whole of the Paschal mystery: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, when many of us first hear the word atonement, we immediately think about sins and things for which we have to repent. We may think about the Cross and how many Christians teach that through Jesus act of self-giving on the Cross our sins can be forgiven. Atonement, however, is something so much more powerful than anything to do with our sins, out little sins (as I discussed with you throughout Lent). Atonement, that which Jesus achieves not just on the Cross but in and through the whole of the Paschal mystery, is nothing less than our reconciliation with God, literally (as I have said before) our at-one-ment with God. That night we celebrated six weeks ago when “Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave” showed how “heaven and earth are joined and we are reconciled,” made one with God. Jesus’ Ascension, which we celebrated Thursday, and as Canon Wright pointed out in his wonderful sermon, makes those actions, achieved in a specific place and at a specific time, available to all. The Cosmic Christ, now risen and ascended offers each of us his outstretched arms in love, calling us all to be united with him, “even,” as Jesus says in John’s account, “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.” And this connexion with God in Jesus Christ, this relationship, based at the very heart of the Paschal Mystery is the root of our faith and not any particular belief on our part.
We are to be one with God, united with him and with one another in Christ Jesus because this is God’s desire for us. It is Jesus’ desire for us that the whole world see that we are united in this way so that others who do not yet know about this connexion that has already been established in and through the Paschal Mystery and made available to all in the person of the Ascended Cosmic Christ, may recognise this reality and themselves join in this unity, becoming one with God. In this way, God calls all creation to atone, not atone for anything that anyone might have done, but atone so that we might all share in the Glory of God, so that all might know and share the love of God.
John puts it this way: “The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.” “So that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou has loved me.” At one with God, we make known the love of God in and through our common life and actions so that others may see and be drawn into that love, into that community, into relationship with God. Indeed, our unity with God is a message to the whole world about God’s love for us and for all those others who do not yet realise how much they are already loved.
True atonement, a gift already given us by God in and through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, is our calling. Jesus wants that atonement, which is a sign of his love, to be visible so that this gift of his glory may reveal to the whole world that the very love of God, the generous, altruistic, no-strings-attached love of God that the Father expresses for the Son, may be in each and every one of us. Jesus shows that in our unity with him and with God, we are given the gift to be loved and to love as God loves.
It is an old Protestant fallacy that posits that we, as sinful humans, are shut off from real access to that true love of God. Here in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us plainly that our oneness with him, our very catholic oneness with him, gives us the power to receive and give the very love of God. In and through our readiness to be loved and to love in return, the love of God is made manifest into the world. God makes the offer and we are called to accept and then give in return. Christ in his glory, in his full stature, having shown his love for us on the cross, in his resurrection, and in his ascension, gives us the gift of his love to share with all for, he says, “I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Indeed, this is our hope when in the Prayer Book office of Holy Baptism (which we will pray next week for Katherine, Jim, and Oliver) we ask the godparents and sponsors to help the candidates to grow into the full stature of Christ, united with his body, growing and up building itself in love. United with Jesus and with the Father in Baptism, we are given the power to receive, truly receive and give in return the very love of God. It is one of our deepest wishes for the baptised that in this way, as they grow, both in body and in spirit, that each may grow, knit to the Body of Christ, into members who are truly open to receiving the love of God and spreading it abroad, making manifest God’s love.
We began with a question about atonement. We have ended wishing that those of us who are already baptised, and especially those who are about to be baptised, may continue to grow into the full stature of Christ. We have not come a very long way, for indeed, one with God, atoned (and not for anything), we are made new and given the power to show forth the glory of God into the world, make manifest his love, and draw others into that same unity.
Andrew Charles Blume+
Easter/Ascension Feria, 15 May 2010
©2010 Andrew Charles Blume