May 20, 10:00 a.m.
The Day of Pentecost

Ascension Sunday, May 13, 2018                                                   St. John's Church

Rev'd Jennifer Phillips                                     Acts 1:15-26; 1 Jn 5:9-13; Jn 17:6-19


"Where's Waldo?" You've seen those books beloved of small children? This Ascension Sunday, following the 50-day mark after Jesus resurrection and closing the Easter season, is our day to ask, "Where's Jesus now?"

For those who love studying the history and theology of the Church, there is a fascinating sequence of answers to the question. On the surface of things, Scripture seems to offer a simple, if perplexing, response: Jesus is ascended "into glory", "sitting on the right hand of the Father," "on high," "returned into heaven, whence he will come again in glory at the end of the ages - or maybe tomorrow." But what might that mean?

We've been reading pieces of John's Gospel through the Easter season. That Gospel doesn't describe the Ascension of Jesus, unlike the earlier 2-volume work of Luke Acts. Yet an awareness of it is between and underneath the lines everywhere. Maybe because this community of diverse Jesus-followers comes a couple of generations after Jesus, later than the other Gospels, they have less of the sense of Jesus nearby about to re-enter history to bring about the last chapter of salvation, the Day of the Lord. What John's community does have in clear awareness is the lively presence of the Holy Spirit, bestowing gifts on the gathered community for the common good, and summoning them to a holy unity. Where has Jesus gone? For these people he has gone to his Father's house to prepare a place for the others to come later on. He has opened the route for them, because he is the Way, the Path. The route of his going is by the cross and resurrection, which opens the gateway as a shepherd opens the gate for the following sheep. In the meantime, in their field of mission, he has sent them the Spirit to proclaim that the Father's house has room for all, because God is love and God's nature is to welcome, reconcile, and bring into communion everyone and everything...though some in this community seem to harbor doubts that "everyone" includes those they see as outsiders. There is debate about the width of the welcome, because on some level it was and is scandalous for the Holy One to love those people! But the Jesus shown in John is trying to open not just the heavens but the hearts of the followers to full communion.

Like Paul before John, the Johannine community sees the ascended Jesus as operating on a cosmic scale. This Christ was in the beginning and through him all things were made; now he is the joining place of heaven and earth making all things one, reconciling us to God and one another. This Christ stands also at the end, Alpha and Omega; arms spread in welcome as on the cross, the divine Word and Wisdom who will gather the nations and whose peace will be absolute. In the Gospel of John we sometimes see the historical Jesus speaking as the already-ascended one. And yet this Gospel also bears the poignancy of the community with a keen awareness of the absence of Jesus. Thomas cries out in anguish even before the not-yet-ascended one departs: "how can we know the way you are going?" There are English churches where, if you look up into the rafters, you find carved there a pair of feet, as though Jesus is frozen in the process of rising through the roof. We get the goneness of Jesus. Stoic Anglicans maybe more or differently than hearty Baptists who boast "He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own." We tend to feel the distance and the ambiguity of the One we sense as present in the Sacrament though we can't quite say how, and yet long for because we don't yet see him as he is now and we feel the weight of history between us. We've stopped staring up into the skies with the men of Galilee looking for Jesus where they last saw him. We know he has in some manner gone ahead, and so we must look forward now, not backward.

However we make meaning out of the Ascension of Jesus, the answer to the question of where he is in or beyond space and time must include his full human personhood if it is a future that is to have room for us in ours. It does not satisfy to think of him as gone from specificity into generality, from historicity into abstraction, from person to idea! He cannot be less than he was: fully human, fully divine. We can't say, "Now he is just spirit." without repeating the old Docetist heresy that said he only appears human in history, like a man but not really one. Nor the Nestorian heresy, that he has left one of his two substances into the other. He's not just diffused through the whole human society, absorbed into it like dye into cloth to make it more beautiful. Nor does humanity seem to be evolving into more and more perfection until we ourselves become the new Christ, with no further need of a Savior. Up until World War II, this notion of a perfectible humanity was very persuasive; since the Holocaust and string of genocides since then, since the shaking of the foundations of every form of government and political ideal and utopian experiment - believable? not so much! Since the insights of new psychology and neurology have not diminished the problem of crazy and bad behaviors noticeably - the perfect human being, not quite what we had hoped! So - maybe a bit like Voltaire- we are a bit snippy about the idea of the ascent of history and the promises of evolution and progress toward the best of all possible worlds.

So - enter 2018, the USA, the post-modern world...where's Jesus now?, we wonder. And does it make a difference to try to answer? Ascension Day, once the church's queen of feasts, is now an embarrassment to us - who no longer have a multi-story universe. We don't see the cosmos as a set of concentric spheres rising to the highest heaven. Kepler and Galileo ruined that picture for us. We don't see the throne of God like a hall at the top of a skyscraper where the saints stand like toga-ed Roman senators on either side, the way the Byzantine mosaics show heaven. We space-kids, and our Star Trek - Star Wars grandkids don't think of God as "up there somewhere" where we will boldly go, light sabers in hand to meet the Great General. We of the quantum universe and multiverse can't quite figure out where to start looking for the Ascended One.

Jesus between the resurrection and ascension kept popping into the scene among groups of disciples - adding some wisdom, reminding them of how he always ate with them, how they felt around him. If he had never gone from that state, he might still keep turning up and making people look back wistfully, nostalgically. The genius of John's Gospel community is that they realized that the ascension set them free to make sense of the Jesus-story they inherited and the new gifts the Spirit brought to shape a mission that fit them. Not every Christian community was meant to take the same shape or do mission in just the same way, or even understand its identity and Savior identically. Jesus left room for the Spirit to bust loose and create new things!

I was praying while gardening the other day - the two seem to go together well. The litany of misery and scandal on the morning news was in my thoughts - no surprise- and making the world (or at least the human part of the world - what the Greeks called the oikodominus, the inhabited world, the domesticated world) - seem like a seething pit of barbarism and bad behavior that is like a wreck you can't take your eyes off. And, vigorously dead-heading the spent daffodils, the thought came to me - maybe the word of the Lord - saying "who are you to be disappointed in the world?" A fruitful question on many levels. There's the level of Job - God saying "where were you, little creature, when I created Everything?" There's the level of the rich young man of the parable who, instead of leaving everything and becoming a disciple, leaves Jesus sorrowing "because he had many possession", the level of privilege that says: "Just look at your fortunate place in the world, and the power that gives you, and quit whining and do what needs to be done." There's the level of Ezekiel and the prophets, who say in lots of different words: "sin is always with us. The powerful sin on a big scale and need rebuking, but all God's people wander off the track regularly. Repent and return to the Lord. You, mortal, I have told you what is good: what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" And of course, there's the level of Jesus, who says, "nevertheless, the reign of God is among you. You are stones in a holy building" and of Paul, saying "You are co-laborers with God in Christ, who is renewing the creation." "That same Spirit that was in Jesus, and was poured out on the apostles sent into the world, is also in you." No cause for despair! No wallowing in disappointment!

So I go back to the imperfect church, the community of the saints present here. The church "is the prophetic sign that, with Christ's Ascension, God has organized all things around the one whom he has enthroned at his right hand," said theologian Douglas Farrow. The throne's not quite literal and not quite metaphor, but has its visceral reality. Together we pray and do our small piece of work in the name of the one who is, mysteriously and paradoxically, gone yet present, immanent yet transcendent, human yet also divine. Together we pray and bless and share bread and wine that are mysteriously and paradoxically a meal and more than a meal, a sacred transformative reality, a communion with God and one another in Christ. We glimpse it but don't entirely see it. We sense it as more real than anything else, and yet can't wrap our minds around it. We insist on the distinction between mystery and delusion.

By these acts: praising, remembering, offering, invoking, taking, breaking, sharing, sending forth; we proclaim more than we can explain: Christ resurrected, ascended to be present at the right hand of the Creator as Advocate. We proclaim our hope for the future of the cosmos, held and drawn upward by the hand and will of God both in and beyond space and time. We declare our conviction that not powers and principalities (presidencies, monarchies, ruling parties) of this world, not forces (natural, human, or supernatural) of chaos and evil, not grief and suffering, not doubt and despair, not distance nor time, not life nor death, nor anything at all shall separate us from the love of God in Christ....wherever Christ is.

WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Office Hours:  
Tuesday 2:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Wednesday 2:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Friday 2:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Sunday Worship:  10:00  a.m. 
Wednesday Eucharist: 10:15 a.m.

This is St. John's Episcopal Church... please click on photo below to see more photos of church life!

This is St. John's Episcopal Church, Westwood MA

Want to check on the readings for a particular Sunday or other day?  Click below to go to the Lectionary page...  all readings available for 2017:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips

Tuesday, May 15,
Bible Study ~ 7:00pm

Wednesday, May 16,
Morning Eucharist ~ 10:15

Sunday, May 20, 10:00 a.m.
The Day of Pentecost
Worship ~Sunday

Looking Ahead
Saturday, June 14, Noon - 2:45 p.m.:
Annual picnic at North Beach, Hale,  with fishing and boating, for our friends from Ecclesia Ministries. 

Episcopal Young Adult Festival 2019:
Young adults 18-30 have an opportunity to experience a bit of Episcopal General Convention 2019 July 5-13 in Austin, TX with others from around the world and the country - registration deadline May 11, 10 spots open. The cost for the event ranges between $300 and $675 depending on the housing choices. Registration deadline for those traveling to Austin is May 1 and includes five nights of housing, a Sunday morning brunch, General Convention registration, and all Young Adult Festival programming. For more information, contact Kelly at skelly@episcopalchurch.org.

Mark your calendars for our B-SAFE days: July 18, 19, and 20 when we will be serving lunches and offering a Field Trip for 60 or so elementary school children at our partner parish, C.H.S., Mattapan. Speak to Leslie or Emily if you'd like to join us in this joyful outreach. Pictured below: kids having fun at the Capron Zoo.

Christian Discipleship in Action via St. John’s

Come join in:

Oasis Ministrieswe cook and serve a monthly hot chicken dinner to about 100 homeless neighbors in down- town Boston on 2nd Mondays.

Ecclesia outreachwe invite homeless and poor neighbors to Hale Reservation for a summer picnic and for a Spring bowling afternoon in Norwood.

Tutoring after-school reading and homework help for city children at Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan on Tuesday afternoons.

Pantry support for the Westwood Food Pantry and the Center for Life elderly housing complex in Mattapan – bring non-perishable groceries to church year round.

Habitat for Humanity home buildcoming soon, a St. John’s team to help build an affordable home in Westwood.

Prayer Shawlsknitting group prayerfully makes shawls for people facing illness or crisis.

Urban Promise Honduras missioners from St. John’s & CHS travel to learn and work with children at a school in Copan every few years.

Boston B-SAFE summer program our team works during a July week each year to provide meals and a field trip & picnic for this large city children’s program.

Eucharistic Visiting members are trained and take the Sacrament, offer healing prayer, and make friendly visits to people who are homebound, in hospital, or other institutional settings.

Speak to Rev. Jennifer if you’d like to put your discipleship to work in one or more of these parish ministries!

Six St. John's volunteers, along with college students from nearby Suffolk & other regular participants, at the end of the Oasis dinner on April 9.