28 May 2017
“‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me so that they may be one as we are one.’” (John 17:11) In the name …
A few days ago the church celebrated Jesus’ ascension, which is His return to His rightful seat in heaven after His life, death and resurrection. Nobody knows what resurrection from the dead entails. It’s a mystery. All human language is going to come up short, and that becomes painfully clear at the end of Luke’s Gospel. He’s trying so hard to convey the reality of what the eye-witnesses experienced, but I don’t know if it can be shared. I don’t know if we can ever understand what happened to them as they encountered the risen Jesus, but as people of faith we can trust them.
There’s an attempt at the end of Luke’s Gospel to help us understand, but you can tell he’s struggling. It’s Easter night. The resurrected Jesus appears to some of His followers. They thought they were seeing a ghost, says the Bible. One minute Jesus isn’t in the room the next He is. He just appears. But then Jesus tells them, “‘Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’” (Luke 24:39) Still, says the Bible, His disciples are not convinced so Jesus asks for some food to eat. Luke has spent almost 24 full chapters speaking about the wonders, marvels, miracles and mystery that surrounded the life of Jesus, and now his last proof, after the empty tomb stories, the Road to Emmaus story, his last attempt to share with us that Easter is real comes down to Jesus eating a piece of broiled fish. And this sums up for me the futile attempt to try and explain what cannot be explained, that there is a resurrected body that is not a body.
The resurrected Jesus can both appear and disappear, but He can also be touched and He can eat. I think what Luke is struggling to tell us is that Jesus was recognized as real and alive after He was dead and buried. Jesus didn’t give up who He was on the cross. Jesus remains Jesus even after the resurrection. And that same Jesus carries every memory of every encounter, of every experience, of every person, and He even carries with Him into heaven every scar on His crucified body, as He ascends back into heaven to assume His rightful place in glory.
Jesus changed the nature of God. I know that sounds a little bid scandalous because we’re used to thinking about God as perfect and therefore unchanging, but that’s a concept of human philosophy, not of God’s revelation. As the church was growing up and again trying to explain the unexplainable, she latched onto Greek philosophy. And the philosophers saw change as a sign of imperfection, as something inferior getting better or something superior getting worse. Either way, change didn’t fit with their ideal of perfection. So they imagined that the perfect must be forever unchanging, and God is perfect, therefore God cannot change.
But again, this is human philosophy not God’s revelation. In the Old Testament, God changes His mind, and it is seen as evidence that God listens to our prayers and petitions. And for Christians, how can we possibly say that God is the same both before and after Jesus? Jesus is God incarnate; Jesus is God living among us as one of us. For Jesus’ life to be real and meaningful, it has to make a difference in the life of God. The Jesus who ascended into the heavens is the resurrected Jesus who still has the marks of the crucified Jesus on His body, the imprints of the nails in His hands and feet, the scar in His side from the lance, and the marks around His head from the crown of thorns. How can we possibly argue that God never changes when we also believe that this same Jesus is God?
And this affects how God looks upon us. In our next Bible study group meeting, I’m thinking we may make it into John chapter 5. Here, Jesus is testifying to His equality with God (5:18), and He says that God has given to Him the authority of judgment. This entire passage is about Jesus as the Son of God, but then, strikingly, out of nowhere, Jesus says instead that the authority to judge is not because He is the Son of God, but because He is the “Son of Man,” (5:27) because He is one of us. When Jesus ascended into heaven, it is not to leave us behind. It is to bring who we are into God.
This is a powerful statement of hope. People can do horrible things. I think about the bombing in Manchester, England, about the savagery of targeting especially young girls and teens, and the blasphemy of doing such a thing in the name of God. But I remember also that Salman Abedi is one man, maybe helped by others, but still a small number of small people. Then I watched as thousands of people, of different faiths, of different ethnicities and races, all came together in defiance of such hatred, and the world supported them. We were created in the image of God, and now with Jesus’ ascension our human nature has become a part of God. There is goodness in us. There is up for us.
And the last thought I would like to share is from the last line of today’s Gospel. Jesus once told His disciples, “‘The Father and I are one.’” (John 10:30) In today’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father saying, “‘…so that they,’” meaning all of us, “‘may be one as we are one.’” (John 17:11) And then Bp. Hodur chose another verse that we recite during the Canon of every Mass that takes it the next step forward: “‘…that they may be one, as we are one – I living in them, you living in me that their unity may be complete.’” (John 17:22-23) I don’t know if we appreciate fully what Jesus is saying here. Jesus and the Father are one because the Father lives in the Son. Now the Son lives in us so that our unity may be made complete, so that we can see, in other words, our union with God, that we can see our godliness. The Ascension reminds us that our human nature is a part of God because of Jesus, and it reminds us of who we can be. This is why faith and faith-lives are so important. There is something deeply spiritual and holy in us. Let us pray that we give it a chance to be. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo