Saturday, May 16, 2015

Meantime in the "Mean" Times: A Homily for Easter 7 (17 May 2015)

RCL Easter 7
17 May 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         I want you to join me on a trip back two thousand years to this Sunday, forty-three days after the resurrection.  The community of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem have spent forty days in his company, if we follow the evangelist Luke’s version of events.  Jesus has been teaching, working deeds of power and building up the community for the next step in its development.  This past Thursday he leads us out of the city and towards Bethany.  Even as we walk, Jesus is still talking to us and then --- he rises into the sky and disappears from our sight.
         I can barely imagine the variety of emotions flooding through the gathered disciples.  Wonder --- fear --- abandonment --- uncertainty --- hopelessness --- the spectrum of feelings is wide and passionate.  Some of us look to Peter for leadership, others to James, a few may even think this is the time to find somewhere else to be.  And then two strangers, Luke describes them as angeloi, the Greek word for ‘messengers’, tell us to calm down and find our way back to the city to wait.  ‘Wait for what?’, many of us ask.  ‘For the next step in God’s mission,’ the strangers respond.
         You and I, looking back at these events from the distance of two thousand years, know what’s going to happen next Sunday.  The Holy Spirit will descend upon them, filling them with power and confidence and scattering them over the whole earth, so that all peoples, in all times and in all places, can hear the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth.  But the disciples, that confused, uncertain and probably frightened group of men and women do not know what’s going to happen.  All they know is that they have been witnesses to an extraordinary series of events, that their teacher has left them and that they are now at risk of falling into the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities.
         They have entered what we call the ‘meantime’.  I’ve come to appreciate the dual connotations of the word ‘meantime’.  Of course, most of us understand ‘meantime’ as ‘a time in between, a time of waiting’, but there is another meaning.  ‘Mean-time’ is a time when human ‘meanness’, our propensity to harm our neighbours, to seek our self-interest at the expense of all and sundry and to form exclusive groups based on race or gender or ethnicity or any other narrow criteria, overcomes our ‘better angels’.
         Often, when we are waiting for something, hoping for something, we are prone to give in to our fears.  We can easily invent reasons why our hoped-for future has not yet arrived.  We can become so paralyzed that we are afraid to take any action, even those that we know need to be done in order to pave the way for the future in which we hope.
         I take some comfort in what the Acts of the Apostles tell us about the community in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension.  The first thing they do is convene the community to select a successor to Judas.  His betrayal could have been an almost insurmountable tragedy, but the disciples will not let cloud their future.  Matthias is elected and takes his place in the council of the Twelve.  And then they wait.  Next Sunday the Holy Spirit will find the Twelve and many others together, praying, reading the Scriptures, perhaps even breaking the bread and pouring the wine that you and I call the eucharist.  Then the story begins a new chapter.
         With this new chapter you and I and all our ancestors in the faith, all those who have followed the way of Jesus of Nazareth, entered our own ‘meantime’.  We proclaim the message of a world returned to its proper relationship with its Creator, a world in which all God’s creatures are treated with dignity and respect, a world in which all human beings, created but little lower than the angels, will know the freedom of the children of God.  Even though that world has not arrived in its fullness, all God’s children can know eternal life, ‘. . . a life shaped by the knowledge of God as revealed in Jesus.’  (The New Interpreter’s Study Bible 2003, 1942)
         But at the same time we must not be na├»ve.  Our ‘meantime’, the ‘already but not yet of the kingdom of God’, is also a ‘mean-time’, a time when humanity’s seemingly infinite gift of self-destructive behaviour is in full swing.  Our Christian sisters and brothers throughout the world know the cruel hand of persecution and many have become refugees or have died.  Even as we celebrate this eucharistic feast, we know the reality of hunger and homelessness here in Canada and elsewhere in the world.  All of us gathered here could add many other ills to the those that I have just named.  Some people name these ills as signs of despair; we name them as reminders that we have work to do.
         ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’  (John 17.18)  These are some of the last words the evangelist John records Jesus praying to the God who sent him into the world.  The message of the ascension, the end of Jesus’ personal, physical presence on earth, is not an ending but a beginning.  It is the liberation of the good news of God in Jesus from the boundaries of a given time in a given geographical location.  The good news has been unleashed to transform the world through the deeds and actions of men and women such as you and I.

         At the end of every eucharist, the deacon or some other assisting minister sends the gathered community forth from this place of study, prayer and celebration.  He or she takes on the role of the two strangers who sent the disciples away from the place of the ascension.  ‘Let’s move on,’ they say, ‘let’s move out into the “mean” times that many of our sisters and brothers experience.  Let’s move on and out to share with them our “meantime”, a life shaped by the knowledge of God as revealed in Jesus.  Then the transformation begun so long ago can continue until the glory of God fills all of creation.’

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