Monday, May 22, 2017

The third most important post about holidays you'll ever read

This is a total liturgy geek share, but I hope you'll read all of it. I think you'll find it at least mildly edifying. 

It takes months--at least in its secular form--to prepare for Christmas. Stores devote whole aisles to the enterprise, and forests die in honor of its observance.

Similarly, it takes all of Lent to prepare for Easter, and lots of people fast or otherwise modify their daily lives. 

Finally, there is one other holy day, of equal importance to these major holidays, that we do not give the same gravity or attention. 


(unless you're all secretly planning some massive blow-out on June 4th of which I'm blissfully unaware, in which case more power to you).

We do not give Pentecost (the day devoted to the Holy Spirit) the same attention as the other great feast days.

We're all in for Jesus's birthday. And we really love his resurrection. But apparently we haven't emphasized in our religious culture the sending of his Spirit. That's too bad, and is maybe something we should fix. 

So here's a bit about Ascension and Pentecost.

Ten days before Pentecost, we observe the Feast of the Ascension and the beginning of the brief season of Ascensiontide. The focus of this brief season is not only Christ's ascension but his "session" - i.e., being seated at the right hand of the Father. 

My friend George Murphy writes, "Luther and the Lutheran tradition have a distinctive understanding of these things which seems to be a well kept secret even from many Lutherans. From Luther's standpoint the essential text for the Ascension is not the account in Acts 1 but Ephesians 4:10. Christ in his full humanity 'ascended far above all heavens, so that he might fill all things. Christ is indeed "at the right hand of God" and, as Luther said, "the right hand of God is everywhere." I.e., in biblical language it is not a spatial location but the exercise of God's almighty power. Christ can be present on earth, not only "spiritually" but in his full body-soul-spirit-mind humanity personally united with the Word. And he is bodily present for us in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper."

Murphy says that if "Lutherans had taken this teaching more seriously, there would have been less angst about Copernicus and other astronomical discoveries, the demise of the "three decker universe" &c. The doctrine of the Ascension still has the potential to free us from parochial theologies. Unfortunately we seem content to have Ascension Day submerged in an extended Easter season, and we transfer such observance of it that there may be to the following Sunday."

So, guilty as charged. We aren't observing a special Thursday Ascension service this week, even though probably we should.  

If all y'all clamor for us to host a service next year, I'm all in. Or perhaps so many of you will read this message that you'll plan some magical and moving observation of Ascension via your media platforms, and if you do, I salute you. Tag me, I'll share.

But for this year, Ascension (and then Pentecost the week after) will fall as a "mobile" feast, meaning one we move from its regularly appointed date (Thursday) to the closest Sunday. 

I won't tie all this up with a bow and imply it's easy to grasp how Jesus ascended from earth after his resurrection to be seated at the right hand of God, or how there is a continuing presence of his Spirit everywhere among the community initiated by the apostles. Those are mysteries just as complex as the incarnation of the Logos in the baby Jesus, or the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

What I will say, however, is that spacetime itself is equally mysterious. Reality is not what it seems. As Heisenberg said of nature, "What we observe is not nature, but nature exposed to our method of questioning."

For example, if we think it is difficult to fathom the Ascension, or the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost, consider this quote from the NPR piece I've linked above:

" Rovelli describes as masterfully as one can the basic ideas behind loop quantum gravity, how if we take the granularity of spacetime seriously, the concepts of space and time as we understand them dissolve — and we are left with a network of linked loops representing the fields that we attribute, at large distances, to spacetime. Applying techniques from quantum physics to the volume and area of space, it is possible to show that there is a finite spectrum of possible volumes and areas, a quantization of space itself, just as the energy levels of the electron are quantized in an atom."

That's pretty clear, one of the best descriptions of the granularity of spacetime I've ever read, but it does start to make it seem like reality is about as miraculous as anything you read about in a theology text.

We'll find some time this Sunday to contemplate spacetime and Christ's Ascension, and I hope you'll find it inspiring. At the very least, I hope you'll find it beautiful. Maybe mystical, in a way similar to the mysticism of John Coltrane's Ascension.

We'll observe Ascension this Sunday, May 28th, as the focus of our Memorial Day services at GSLC. Keep an eye out. You never know when you might see Jesus floating about.
 Peace to you this Ascensiontide. 

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