Sunday after Ascension, May 24, 2020
St. Martin North Vancouver
image of Eagle Cross by artist Don Yeomans (Audain Art Collection)
“Lifting up a Prayer”
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. Amen.
There are days when I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. For my family, for my parish, for the wider church, and for the individuals and communities to which I am connected as a neighbour and a citizen. If I were to try and bear it alone, I would be crushed under the load. In the times when there is too much to think and feel and do, I have to remind myself “It’s not up to me to fix.” It is always God’s work to heal the world, and God does just that through Jesus Christ.
Ascension is a strange festival from the outside. The Church celebrates the resurrected Jesus returning to heaven to be one with God the Father. Christ goes up, and we are left down here to get on with living. But we are not abandoned. There is a power that links heaven and earth. Through the risen Lord, we are connected to the One who can reconcile all things.
I have an older computer. It does not have a very long battery life. If I use it for a while without plugging it into an outlet, it runs down. Maybe you too have had the experience of running out of juice on your phone or tablet in the midst of a call. It comes to a point where you have to stop, attach your device to a power cord, and charge it back up again in order for it to work. Some devices, like some people, have more staying power than others, but sooner or later every battery needs a boost.
Prayer is the booster cable for our spiritual lives. When we lift our frustrations and concerns and hopes to God, we are acknowledging that we don’t have enough energy or wisdom to keep going by ourselves. We have to open up the channel to let the power of Christ flow into our lives and enable us to love and serve. Without enough attention to prayer, I find I run out of spiritual reserves and wonder why I am so tired and frustrated. But when I return to rest in God’s presence, a measure of grace and peace descends again to ease what I thought were “my” burdens.
In our parish bible studies, we have been exploring the Letter to the Ephesians. The apostle is writing to the new Christian communities around the Mediterranean, including the church at Ephesus for which the letter is named. He has a lot of responsibilities, and he has realized that prayer is crucial to his work. Power comes through the spirit of Jesus, not out of his own resources. So, in reassuring people just like us who are struggling with all of the changes and anxieties of their lives, he says “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (1:16). He’s not shaping his intercessions around what needs fixing. He lifts up the saints with thanksgiving. There is a confidence that God will supply what is needed. Wisdom and revelation, hope and power are possible because the risen Christ is working as a power cord connecting heaven and earth.
When we pray, sometimes we fall into the pattern of telling God what is wrong with the world, who is in need of healing, and where we have missed the mark. These are all legitimate concerns, and there is nothing wrong in bringing them into the conversation. But I think it is also helpful to remember that God already knows what needs doing and is active in healing. What would it be like if we spent more time giving thanks and celebrating what God has done for us?
Even outside of faith communities, people have been noticing that there are positive changes in our world at this challenging time. Neighbours who never spoke to each other have stopped to chat from a safe distance, and smiled and waved at us when they are out for a walk. There have been distressing incidents of racism and xenophobia, but there have also been acts of kindness and compassion in unexpected places. I have never seen so many well-tended gardens, and people who were formally too busy to bake or make a phone call are extending hospitality. In the rise of unemployment and fears of business failure, many have been more generous in charity and more restrained in acquiring things for themselves. God’s green earth is getting a minor jubilee year, resting from so much industry and pollution. Then there are the holes in our social nets that have been exposed- from the low wages and exploitation in some essential jobs to the inequities for indigenous peoples and other minorities. These reveal opportunities for all of us as citizens to advocate for more just legislation and distribution of common resources.
Our options and our energy is limited right now. But God is not limited. We can be contributors and participants in that worldwide web of prayer that allows the love of Christ to recharge and reshape the world. In medieval times, men and women used to retreat to monasteries and convents in order to pray for the wider world. Their daily times of worship were a powerhouse for channeling spiritual power. It’s not that they were holy people, or even remarkably clever or talented. What they did was lift up creation in thanksgiving on behalf of all. Like the writer of Ephesians, their calling was to make real “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (1:19). The discipline of turning day by day, week by week, to the prayers and psalms of the Church provided a rhythm of lifting up the world to heaven.
Prayer is not just for monks and nuns and priests. It is a labour of love that connects all of us, and through us, others, to the power of the holy. Consider our daily times of quiet and reflection, our commitment to worship on the sabbath, and our spontaneous offerings of praise. All signal our intention to trust in God’s power, not our own. When I neglect my prayer time, I lose sight of who is really in charge of healing. I might even end up thinking it is up to me! As well, I miss out that connection to others that Jesus Christ makes possible. The risen Lord’s power operates in the Church, his body. When we pray as a community, even at a distance from our sacred places, we are linked in to each other. We give thanks for all the goodness of life glimpsed even now. In doing so, we reaffirm that the Church’s role is to proclaim the fullness of God’s love for the world. Amen.