This is the Sunday before Ascension Day. The Ascension is a day that is easy to ignore. It takes place on a Thursday (a lot of Episcopal congregations have their mid-week service on Wednesday). When I was a student at Nashotah House, Ascension Day was celebrated with great joy and wonderful liturgies filled with chant and incense.
Our Collect for today assures us that God has prepared for those who surrender to love such good things as surpass our understanding. “Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire ….”
The Collect reminds us that to have the kind of love that endures we must claim God’s love as our source. When we accept this love we are able to love God within the creation, and to bring forth efforts toward truth and justice in our world — loving God in ourselves and in all others.
We hear Jesus’ commandment to love one another in the context of the Fifty Days of Easter. In the Gospel of John, these words are spoken by Jesus on the night before his death, following the account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Jesus emptied himself and laid down his life for us. Therefore we, too, are called to give of ourselves for others, even when this involves suffering and renunciation.
Quaker author and elder Parker Palmer writes in On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018) about his evolving perspective and priorities as he grows older: “Most older folks I know fret about unloading material goods they’ve collected over the years, stuff that was once useful to them but now prevents them from moving freely about their homes. There are precincts in our basement where a small child could get lost for hours. But the junk I really need to jettison in my old age is psychological junk — such as longtime convictions about what gives my life meaning that no longer serve me well. For example, who will I be when I can no longer do the work that has been a primary source of identity for me for the past half century? I won’t know the answer until I get there. But on my way to that day, I’ve found a question that’s already brought me a new sense of meaning. I no longer ask, ‘What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to hang on to?’ Instead I ask, ‘What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?’ The desire to ‘hang on’ comes from a sense of scarcity and fear. The desire to ‘give myself’ comes from a sense of abundance and generosity. That’s the kind of truth I want to wither into” (pp. 26-27).
It is this fear of scarcity that drives much of the white supremacy and white nationalism that is responsible for the horrible rise in hate crimes and other acts of violence against minorities and immigrants. What I find more disturbing is the vile hatred being preached from many evangelical pulpits – “Christian” pastors deliberately ignoring Jesus’ commandment to love one another.
The victory of Easter makes all things new. This triumphant “turn” in our circumstances — this affirmation of our new life in Christ that stretches to include our neighbors, our planet, our future—is the ultimate word of reconciliation and grace. In the light of Christ’s sacrifice, we find the courage to believe that we are beloved of God; to take risks in our own loving outreach; even to forgive our enemies or any who have hurt us.
God’s love triumphs. Easter breaks into our imperfect world, and we find ourselves able to stand with the poor, the vulnerable, those with inner emptiness — through the power of Christ revealed in his Body in the world. Rooted in the grace of Baptism and nourished by the Eucharist, we become empowered by Christ to bear the fruit of love.
By sharing in God’s life, open to the Divine love and wisdom, we find that the Spirit works through us in deeper purpose, for the good of all. When we are at one with God’s love we are on the path to greater outcomes and deeper satisfaction in the peace that transforms and endures.