Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Seventh Sunday in Eastertide – Tenth Sunday of ZOOM Church
May 24, 2020
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his 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.
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
They were continually in the Temple, blessing God. Even though it was in the Temple that Jesus had thrown down the tables of the money-changers, and railed against hypocrites, and in the Temple that the Pharisees and Scribes had confronted Jesus time after time, calling him a blasphemer and a Sabbath-breaker and a false prophet. Even though it was the Temple authorities who had ordered the arrest of Jesus, and the Temple police who had captured him on that miserable night in Gethsemane only a couple of months earlier. You might think that the last place in the world that the disciples of Jesus would gather to praise God would be the Temple in Jerusalem. And yet apparently, they did.
Through the forty days after the wretched death on the cross, Jesus’ followers had begun to see him again in brief, mysterious appearances. They had come to believe that he was truly still with them, alive in a way they had never imagined. They had caught a glimpse of what he was asking them – go and tell all the world, he said. Proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Feed my lambs. They had an inkling of the spiritual revolution that they were about to launch, a hint of how profoundly things would change. And yet at this second moment of goodbye, when Jesus, as we are told, was lifted up like the prophet Elijah, straight into heaven, their first instinct was to return to the practices of faith that they had always known. They went to the Temple and sang all the old hymns and prayers and blessings, as they waited to be clothed with power.
When we first started this Zoom church, Brad used to joke that that once he was Host, he had all the power! Power to mute us and unmute us. Power to show us the words for the hymns or the beautiful videos that Rebecca has made of David and the soloists. Power to put us into small groups and bring us back together. It’s great that he and Harold have the power.
But when we hear the Biblical promises of power here, and in the passage from Ephesians that Mary read, we may feel a bit uncomfortable. We may recall times and places where Christians have abused power and claimed authorization from God. Betrayals both large and small, spiritual and political, have damaged the innocent, and brought shame on the entire Christian community. Whether you are thinking of Charlemagne, or Jean Vanier, power can be problematic.
And at the same time, the promises of power in the Bible are difficult in another way, because they are so often unfulfilled. We know so many people and situations where even when there is great faith, there is no power from above to heal or resolve or fix. We are often powerless. Powerless to influence a loved one on a dangerous path, powerless to undo old wrongs, powerless to protect the most vulnerable, powerless to plan the next steps in our own journey – we are all feeling pretty powerless right now, locked up together inside a global pandemic, so to speak. Most of us probably feel that we don’t have any special access to the immeasurable greatness of power that the writer of the letter to the Ephesians talks about. Not even sure we want to.
But perhaps it’s a very different kind of power that Jesus promises. As someone in the lectionary group this week said, sometimes it is simply the power to get out of bed in the morning and get yourself through another day. This is the power that God can wrap around you like a cloak. It’s the track suit you need to be patient with children who have no playmates and no playgrounds. The heavy boots to persist through difficulty. The all-weather jacket that will help you live with uncertainty about the future. The bright T- shirt to find a cheerful heart in a challenging time. Sometimes, we are clothed with the simple garb of grace to accept powerlessness, and to watch with eyes of our hearts enlightened for the hope to which we are called.
Like the disciples so long ago in the midst of disaster and on the edge of a new era, our instinct may be to regroup in traditional ways. Like them, we sing and pray and read, waiting for signs of the way forward. But we are clothed in God’s love, and we are not alone – and for this we give God thanks. Amen.
Image: Blessing – public domain