We are nearing the end of Eastertide. It’s a long season that sometimes feels to me as if it drags on a bit longer than necessary. In all there are 50 days—counting from Easter Day which was April 21 this year and continuing through next Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost. The further away we get from Easter itself, the less we focus on the specifics of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the more we look at the ways Christ continues to be present among us and also all of the ways that his presence among us differs from either his earthly ministry or his presence among the disciples after his resurrection.
It is also the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension and our readings and hymns reflect that as well. The Ascension falls 40 days after Easter, always on the Thursday before the 7thSunday of Easter. It’s a major feast of the church but because it always falls on a week day, and also perhaps because of the event it commemorates, it goes unnoticed by most Episcopalians. That’s true for Roman Catholics as well. For them it’s a day of holy obligation; like Christmas and Easter, all faithful Catholics are required to attend mass. In the American church, Ascension is transferred to Sunday to make that obligation less onerous.
While Ascension commemorates the risen Christ’s departure from earth, his farewell from his disciples, it challenges us to think about the ways in which Christ continues to be present among us even as we also experience his absence. Our readings today invite us to reflect on that theme as well as the theme of endings and beginnings.
We have heard from the very last words of the last book of the New Testament. It’s a marvelous ending, both to the book of Revelation and to the whole of the New Testament. We hear again, as we hear throughout that book, and throughout the other books of the New Testament, gospels and epistles the promise of Jesus that he will come again. But then the speaker shifts, first to the bride, the church, and the Holy Spirit, who pray, Come, then all of us pray, come.
But then there’s another shift as the author uses that same word, come, to invite all who are thirsty to come and drink. We might think of the waters of life, yes, but we also might think of the Eucharistic table to which we are all invited. The vision expands, too, as the call to Jesus to come echoes again, and the final words of the text—in its original form, offers a benediction, a blessing to all—the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all—not just the saints as it reads in our translation.
After all of those visions, after all of the violence, the battles between good and evil, the lamb and the dragon, after the blood and destruction, and yes, after the vision of the New Jerusalem, we have these final words, the outline of yet another vision, this time a vision of inclusiveness and universality. Let all who are thirsty, come and drink; may the grace of Jesus Christ be with everyone.
The inclusiveness of the invitation reflects the inclusiveness of the prayer here.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Our voices raised in prayer or worship join with all those who are worshiping today and have worshiped throughout the centuries. Our prayer and worship unites with the great company of heaven and the universal church. You may not notice that in our Eucharist, as I introduce the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy, I say,
Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and
Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever
sing this hymn…
For us, inclusion often means the obvious things, “All are welcome here,” for example, or the sorts of diversity we expect in our society—diversity of ages, races, gender and sexuality. But inclusion means so much more than that. Our worship unites us with Christians throughout the ages and throughout the world; it unites us with the company of heaven.
That vision resonates in the gospel of John with Jesus’ high priestly prayer. Now we are at the end of Jesus’ time on earth with his disciples. The last supper is coming to an end and after speaking for a long time with his disciples, now Jesus begins to pray, speaking to God on behalf of his disciples. It is a prayer of unity. Jesus asks the Father to make his disciples when even as he and God are one. It is our prayer, too, in the midst of all the divisions within and between churches, divisions in the body of Christ that separate us, and continue to cause pain.
We know those divisions all to well. We know the divisions in our own Anglican communion, divisions among Christians here in the US—divisions not just over how we are organized or what we believe, but divisions that are deepened by the deeper cultural and political divisions that plague us. To pray, “that we all may be one” seems to be as far away from becoming reality as our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Those divisions are real and are painful. Still, there’s a deeper unity that beckons us and knits us together across all of those divisions and across whatever might separate us here. When we pray, we do not pray alone. For those of you who have experienced the grace of healing prayer in our chapel during communion at the 10:00 service, you know how powerful it is to have someone pray on your behalf. You can bring your suffering and pain with you and there surrounded by others, your burden is shared and made less heavy.
So too in our worship. As we unite in our liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, we use words that are being used by others across this country and the world, words that have been used for over 450 years. They are words that invite us to enter into that larger conversation and larger worship, and when our words fail us, as they so often do, the words of the Book of Common Prayer speak to and for us.
After our 10:00 service today, I have invited you to join with me in a conversation about our worship and liturgy. In a few weeks, we will be entering the long season after Pentecost which continues right through until the end of November. I often change our liturgy seasonally, some of that is dictated by the seasons themselves with their different emphases and themes. But it’s also an opportunity to use Eucharistic prayers and other materials that we use less frequently. So, for example, in recent years we’ve used Eucharistic Prayers not from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer but from Enriching our Worship. We also used in Advent and after Epiphany, the so-called expansive language liturgies approved at last year’s General Convention. I encourage you to join me for that conversation as we think about our worship over the next several months. And yes, we will talk about Eucharistic bread.
As we talk about our worship, it’s important to remember that worship is not primarily about us, it is about God. It’s also important to remember that we do not worship alone. We worship with the body of Christ throughout the world and throughout the ages; and we worship as well with all the company of heaven. But as our readings remind us, there is a sense in which we are also worshiping with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Our prayers and praises, our words and hymns, are said and sung with and alongside the Holy Spirit and Christ.
May we all say, Come, Lord Jesus. And as we pray for Christ’s coming, may we experience his presence in our worship, in the Eucharistic feast, and in our lives.