Where Did He Go?, Ascension Day – 1996
May 17, 1996
Where did he go, the broken body, the strapping thirty year-old, where did he go, my love, the crucified, the friend who ate with us at dawn by the lake?
Peer into the clouds, scan the stratosphere; you must find him and bring him back, we cannot live without this glorious body. For in him the fullness of the divine dwells, and where he has gone, the fullness of our humanity has followed, and who are we, without our humanity?
A human body is now with God, seated in equal power, and so we stare at the sky amazed, searching for our lost humanity.
The gospel reading we have been hearing since Easter Day have been leading us step by step towards today’s disappearing act. Early on, the story of Thomas and the wounds warned us to believe without seeing; then the story of the road to Emmaus suggested that we meet Christ every time we gather to share the meaning of the scriptures and to eat together — every Sunday we recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Then we were warned that Jesus is a door through which we walk to green pastures, safety, and fulfillment; then the remarkable statement: I am in the Father and the Father in me. The Christian community that wrote these words back in the first century had come to the realization that the absent friend was none other than God. And finally, last Sunday we heard above vines and branches, and were reminded that our life flows from the life of God in Christ. In many ways, through several stories, the Gospels have been telling us about the meaning of our lives as Christians when our lover, Jesus, is gone. We have been gently guided to trust this absent lover.
But where is his Body? you say, scanning the sky. Luke, writing in Acts foresaw your question, and so the angel says to the disciples, “Why are you guys standing there looking us to heaven? The body you are looking for is not there.” Ephesians points clearly to where it is: for God has “…put all things under Christ’s feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
You are his Body. Look in the mirror when you look for Christ. But you are not his Body alone. Rather, WE are his body, together.
His Body, gathering week by week, –physically gathered together, hearing scripture with our bodies, praying with our bodies, with our bodies praising a Ruler who is far above all the powers and principalities, presidents and governments of this world.
A body gathered to eat at a table open to all, acting out for all to see and touch, to hear and smell, the New World of justice which God is giving birth to among us even now. We gather to eat, and we have a glimpse of what it feels to be truly human, made in God’s image.
The Body gathered to wash and anoint new members, dramatically acting out the meaning of Jesus’s own dying and rising, repeated in our own sharing in his passing. We wash new members of our Body to give them a memorable experience of new birth. For belonging to Christ –and not to the powers and principalities of this world– is like a new birth.
The Body gathered to celebrate the mystery of love between two persons, pointing to lovers and saying, “there is God, between them, praise the Lord!” –and seeing in their faithfulness, a distant echo of Christ’s own faithfulness to us, and our longing for him.
The Body gathered to forgive sins –even in a private confession the whole church is present– proclaiming the deeply subversive Good News: your sins are forgiven.
The Body gathered to lovingly anoint its sick members, recognizing Christ in them, and committing ourselves to minister to them, attempting to mirror, in our life together, God’s own infinite compassion and mercy, even when in death we gather to honor a person’s life and tenderly honor the body that once serve it.
The Body gathered to praise God for leaders, to appoint them as such, to recognize the blessing and torment of leadership based on service, flowing from our memory of being sent out by Christ in service to the world.
Unlike Thomas, we are invited to trust without seeing. Unlike the disciples at Emmaus, our hearts burn and we recognize him without his being here physically. Unlike his own disciples, who denied him, we trust him like a door to lead us to our happiness. Unlike the Pharisees, we trust that he is God. For we are grafted unto him like branches, and his physical presence has passed into our celebrations as a gathered people. Here, in the washing, eating, listening, announcing, praying, anointing, forgiving, marrying, healing, burying, we are Love’s own Body, taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. –Much more interesting, if you ask me, than reading the Sunday paper in bed.
No, we should not be looking up to heaven; The Body of Christ that is gone, is, in fact, right here. We are that Body, which is why, without the Prayer Book having to tell us, we will instinctively greet each other in a few moments with Christ’s own words of greeting: “peace be with you.”
May his peace, which is the gift of his Spirit, animate everything we do as a people, sent to the world to heal it in Christ’s name, Amen.
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