Easter 7A, 2011
Acts 1:5-15, John 17:1-11

A Liturgy is also available


This week has seen us run into a couple of Lectionary events
that should be mentioned today.

First, it is the end of the Festival or Season of Easter.
After some 50 days, following an agenda primarily set by the storyteller Matthew,
even though the majority of gospel stories have been told
by the theologian/storyteller we call John,
we have run out of Easter type stories.

But only to run slap-bang into a one-day Season, called Ascension Sunday.
A Season which uses a heap of ‘up there’ mythical language
“as naively as any passage in the New Testament”
to quote 1960s ‘Honest to God’ John Robinson 
(Robinson 1967:76).

So what are we now to make of the Ascension story in 2011?


There is every possibility that some of those who first heard or read
the story of Jesus being ‘raised in glory’
(like one of the ancient Greek heroes) 70 -90 years after the life of Jesus,
actually believed he ascended to a literal heaven
and would return from God’s throne ‘someplace up there’
at the end of time  (Epperly P&F Web site 2005).

This is how they usually made sense of their world.
But that is not how we understand our world.
So the Ascension story is a bit of a test case of our ability to cope with
strange language, and primitive cosmology.

The challenge for us, it seems to me, is
to find new ways and new phrases of contemporary significance
beyond the traditional literal images of ancient knowledge
for the telling of both the Jesus stories and the God story.

Because story and poetry and imagination and image are important.
So let’s start.

In light of the ‘otherworldly’ interpretations many congregations will hear today,
let me be quite clear:
the heart of this particular Jesus story
is not about some pre-scientific form of space travel...

Neither is it about a past moment in time,
nor about some possible future event, usually called the Second Coming.

It is a story about our calling as Christians to heal and transform the world.
This world.
To live faithfully in this life on the journey that Jesus chartered.

Likewise, when we are engaged in our God-talk
it too needs to go beyond our traditional literal images.

Two people who have attempted this are
Shirley Murray and Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan.
Both are contemporary composers
whose work invites us to imagine God or the sacred, differently,
and to experience faith with some different accents.

We know of some of Shirley’s creativity
as her contemporary hymns are often included in my liturgies.
But Richard's work is likely to be new to many of us.

One of his songs, "Ground And Source Of All That Is",
has these image based words (three verses only):
Ground and source of all that is,
one that anchors all our roots,
Being of all ways and forms,
deepest home and final truth.

We live and move in you
We live and move in you...

Lover of ten thousand names,
holy presence all have known,
Beauty ever welcoming,
Mystery to stir the soul.
We live and move in you
We live and move in you...

Nature by whose laws we live,
author of our DNA,
All compelling call to life,
drawing one and all the same.

We live and move in you
We live and move in you... 
Originally from UpperRoom)

I am also reminded of the creative work of Miriam Therese Winter, a Catholic sister and theologian.
She visited Australia about eight years ago as guest presenter
at a Network of Biblical Storytellers Australia/New Zealand Gathering.

Her continuing invitation to us all is to consider the feminine image of God.
Not in some cheap Hallmark Mother’s Day card theology, but
addressing God in relational ways.

In one of her many reflections she offers this:
The God of history,
The God of the Bible.
is One who carries us in Her arms
after carrying us in Her womb,
breastfeeds us,
nurtures us,
teaches us how to walk,
teaches us how to soar upward
just as the eagle teaches its young
to stretch their wings and fly,

makes fruitful,
brings to birth,
clothes the lilies of the field,
clothes Eve and Adam with garments newmade,
clothes you and me
with skin and flesh
and a whole new level of meaning
with the putting on of Christ...
(Winter 1987:20).

A different way of thinking theologically and imagining God?
But in reality not a very new way, because the feminine image of God,
around for generations, was successfully buried by church patriarchy as ‘pagan’.

So thinking theologically,
which the biblical stories of the Ascension requires us to do,
means more than just interpreting our given
orthodox biblical tradition and creedal statements.

It also means being willing to think differently now than in the past!  (Sallie McFague).
But in the ‘fair-dinkum’ department, this can be dangerous stuff.
Jesus proclaimed good news yet this was in the main, rejected.
Not because it was good, or bad, but because it was new!


So this day, as the season which celebrates new or changed life
comes to a close, maybe we could imagine
the ‘womb’ of God birthing us to be
creative, and
caring human beings...

Born in the image of the One who has borne us.
Pilgrims along the way - on a not-so-easy journey which Jesus first chartered.

Robinson, J. A. T. But That I Can’t Believe! London. Fontana Book, 1967.
Winter, M. T. Woman Prayer Woman Song. Resources for Ritual. Oak Park. Meyer Stone, 1987.