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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ascension Sunday

“ . . . and I have been glorified in them.” John 17:1-11
VII Easter – May 4, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

One of my dearest friends in the whole world is Ed Bacon. Ed is the rector of The Episcopal Church of All Saints’ in Pasadena, CA, and, if there were records of such distinction, could easily and certifiably be one of the silliest priests in all of Western Christendom. He’s also deeply spiritual and one heck of a preacher.

Ed is affectionately known as “the Big White Guy.” He’s from Mississippi and, if that weren’t enough, he is a former Baptist preacher. So, you will not be surprised to hear me say that one of Ed’s favorite sayings, when something has inspired him, is to put his hands up in the air and say, “Oh Lord, I do believe I’m having a glory attack.” Or, at other times, he will simply yell, “Glory! Glory! Glory!”

The Hebrew word for glory is complex, there being more than 20 variations of definition or meaning. In John’s Gospel, when Jesus is talking about God having been glorified, he is clearly speaking about his crucifixion and resurrection – about an act of violence and injustice being redeemed and transformed into a vehicle of salvation. And here, on this Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension, we hear God being glorified in Jesus ascending into heaven.

An ancient theologian of the church was a man named Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the 177. One of his often quoted saying was this: “The glory of God is humankind fully human.” This is the way I prefer to consider the glory of God.

I like to think of the glory of God as the ascension of the human spirit in Christ Jesus. Like Christmas and Easter moments, there are ascension moments. These ascension moment can sometimes be seen in the revelation of a thought or an idea, the firing of a passion for justice, the employment of religious imagination. I believe this is what my friend Ed Bacon means when he talks bout having a glory attack.

For me, the glory of God also has to do with moments in time when we mere humans have our own moments of earthly ascension. These are often acts of simple kindness, breathtaking gentleness, and deep generosity and gratitude which are uncomplicated by expectation of reciprocity or reimbursement.

These acts are often anonymous that may never be spoken of and are rarely noted in historical texts. Yet, I do believe they are written deep in the heart and memory of God. These moments of ascension of the human spirit are God’s greatest glory.

Yesterday, Barbara and I were in Boston for the blessing of the marriage of two very dear friends of ours. Sheri Barden and Lois Johnson are two women who have lived together for 44 years. Yes. You heard me correctly. That was 44 years.

Lois is 78. Sheri is 69. Barbara and I first met them in 1977 when, as strangers, they took us into their home and offered us love and support and legal assistance as we entered into a crucifiyingly painful time of establishing ourselves as individuals and as a family.

They were legally married on March 27 in Boston where such marriage is legal. They are now able to enter into what some euphemistically call “the golden years” with a sense of peace of mind that, at least legally, everything they have worked hard for all their lives will be protected to the fullest extent of the law, just as it does for everyone else.

Like so many ordinary citizens, they don’t want anything special – just access to the same legal protection under the law as every other ordinary citizen enjoys.

But, being who they are, they wanted a bit more. The Civil Ceremony was important, of course, but they asked Barbara and I to come up to Boston and asked specifically for me to bless the covenant of their relationship. It was a very deep honor, one that I was delighted to have been able to perform.

There was a moment, however, that for me, was a moment wherein the glory of God was revealed in the ascension of our humanity. Sheri is Methodist and Lois is a Christian Scientist. While neither are especially religious, both are deeply spiritual. We held the service in the living room of our mutual friend, Penny – a devoutly religious and deeply spiritual Greek Orthodox who is actively engaged in her church, serving as Treasurer.

We chose that place because it is sacred ground for us all, being the place where Nancy, Penny’s partner of 32 years died 11 years ago of breast cancer. Nancy was also a devout Jew – my very own Jewish Godmother. Oh, the stories I could tell you about this unlikely couple of the Jewish Kevetch and the Greek Orthodox scholar. Another time.

It was just the five of us – two Episcopalians, a Methodist, a Christian Scientist, and a Greek Orthodox woman gathered around in front of the fireplace in an elegant old Queen Anne-style house in Jamaica Plane section of Boston.

After the scriptures were read, the vows taken, the rings blessed, and everyone lavishly sprinkled with Holy Water as well as tears of joy, it was Lois, the intellectual in the group, the Christian Scientist with the pristine logical mind, who began to weep and call out her abiding love and gratitude to all the saints who had led them to this moment.

She looked up to heaven and around the room and, as her voice cracked with emotion, thanked her parents for loving her unconditionally. She thanked her stoic Sweedish aunts who never spoke of their confusion over her choice in a life partner, but loved both she and Sheri anyway.

She thanked all those who had come before us, who had paved the way for justice to be served. She prayed for all those for whom justice is delayed and therefore, denied. And she prayed for those who will not live to see justice in their lives.

When she completed her prayer, there was an unmistakable glow in the room. As my friend Ed Bacon would say, we had just had just been swept up in glory attack. I found myself whispering, “Glory, glory, glory.”

You may have spent last Thursday without having given one thought to the Ascension of Jesus. You may have come into church this morning unaware that we are celebrating the Sunday after the Ascension. It’s not quite the red letter day it used to be on the Christian calendar. Never mind all that.

If you pay attention to your own life, however, you will discover your own ascension moments – times when you are surprised by the revelation of the glory of God in the ascension of the human spirit from things earthly to things heavenly. It is a moment of fulfillment, of justice, of supreme human kindness and generosity and gratitude, uncomplicated by a need or desire for reciprocity.

It is in those ascension moments that God is glorified in the Christ who lives in me and the Christ who lives in you. It is a moment when you might find yourself whispering, “Glory, glory, glory.” Because Irenaeus had it right, all those many centuries ago, “The glory of God is humankind fully human.” Amen.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, my, TELP and I were on the same wavelength on Sunday! See:

That always scares me when someone halfway across the country is thinking what I'm thinking...

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, and by the way, I published my theory as to how this experience happens...