Homily from service on May 29, 2022 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before.”
The seventh Sunday of Easter is the Sunday after the Ascension. Jesus has gone. Ascended into heaven, leaving us here…in the gap between the world that God dreams…the world that Jesus’ life showed us is possible…and the hard reality of the world as it is. And so we pray, “Do not leave us comfortless…send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.” Boy do we need that prayer this week.
Often, when I’m preparing a sermon, I’ll go back and review others that I’ve preached on the same week in the previous years. I want to make sure I’m not being redundant, but sometimes I discover ideas or themes that weren’t fully developed and I want to explore more. Sometimes it just seems like Groundhog Day.
Eight years ago, back in 2014, which was my first Easter season here…on the seventh Sunday of Easter, I used Parker Palmer’s idea of “the tragic gap,” to explore this space between the Ascension and … whatever comes next…Pentecost or…? In Parker’s words, a tragic gap exists between “the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes,” and life as we know it can be because we have seen it. “We see a world at war,” he says, “but we have known moments of peace. We see racial and religious enmity, but we have known moments of unity. We see suffering caused by unjust scarcities, but we have known moments of material and spiritual sharing in which abundance was generated.” [Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit p. 191].
But it was more than just the space between Ascension and Pentecost that I was reflecting on eight years ago. You see, this week eight years ago is when a young man’s hatred of women exploded into a deadly rampage through Isla Vista in Southern California. Hence, Groundhog Day. Which is only compounded by how many times since then this same gap has been rent by some other unspeakable horror echoed with “Voices grieving, and lamenting, and raging…Voices assigning blame…Voices calling for action…Voices offering thoughts and prayers, while ensuring that nothing really is done. According to one report, in the past eight years, the satirical paper The Onion has run the exact same headline 21 times “’No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Do not leave us comfortless, but send us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.
The tragic gap…this space between the world as it could be…as God dreams it to be…and the nightmare it sometime is…this is where we live. Everything that has happened in just the past eight years can be located in this gap. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, and the war in the Donbas ignited. On this week in 2014, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others were all still alive and breathing. In 2014 the epidemic that threatened was ebola…and yet…amid all of that we have had plentiful moments of peace, developed a greater willingness and commitment to doing the hard work of racial reconciliation, and in this parish specifically a great and generous outpouring of material and spiritual sharing.
Do not leave us comfortless…but send us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for living in this tragic gap.
The season after Pentecost is sometimes known as “Ordinary Time.” Our church calendar is organized around Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Easter. Between those two great festival times, there is this long period—a gap—where not much happens liturgically…that’s “Ordinary Time…and for centuries it meant a return to life and work as usual…
But if we’ve learned anything over the past several years, it’s that God calls us to something more than life as usual…we can’t “go back to normal” (whatever that was)…we must go forward…and there is no “Ordinary Time.” All time is God’s time and our call is to be faithful to the path that Jesus has marked out for us…faithful to God’s mission of reconciling all of creation to God and one another…being faithful to—and this is Parker Palmer again, “the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds.”
We live in this tragic gap. Our Christian faith is exercised in this tragic gap. Jesus means for us to do our work in this tragic gap, but he does not leave us comfortless, nor without strength. Christs call to us is sometimes a call to action, sometime a call to rest, but I have never known it to be about returning to “business as usual.”
Friends, I know that many of us are tired. Many of us are looking forward to some time off this summer (I know I am). I also believe that we all want to continue living as faithful disciples of Christ in this tragic gap. And so I’m grateful to the Outreach Committee for encouraging us to both find some real, deep rest, and make a difference in the world. Their “No Ordinary Time” campaign encourages us to tithe a portion of our vacations to the building up of God’s dream of justice and peace. In the Parish Notes this week, and throughout the summer you’ll be hearing about ways to tithe—10% of your vacation time, and/or 10% of your vacation cost—to programs that make a difference in people’s lives. There will be a place online for you to share stories and photos of how you are sharing your gifts with others and supporting the greater community. The outreach committee even has some suggestions of organizations and causes to support, but you should support whatever moves you, whether it’s the elimination of food insecurity, or racial justice, or reproductive rights, or sensible gun laws, or climate change, consider committing 10% of the time or treasure you need to take for yourself to building up the beloved community.
Come the fall, we will still be in this tragic gap, but by remaining faithful, we will also know that God has not left us comfortless. If we lean into the rest and the strength God offers us, and continue to follow Christ, through even this valley of shadows, and bind us some of the wounds, and called forth more of the beloved community, we will indeed be exalted to the place where our Savior Christ has gone. Amen.