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Sermon for Easter 7C

Jun 02, 2019

Passage: John 17:20-26

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Category: Easter

Detail:

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C (2019)
June 2nd, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Acts 16:16-34

Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21

John 17:20-26

I had the privilege on Thursday of this past week to attend a celebration of the feast of the Ascension at the cathedral in Charleston. For those who might not not know, the Feast of the Ascension is one of the main feasts of the church year. It marks the last of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, and it commemorates the occasion when Jesus is taken up into heaven where, as we believe, he is seated at the right hand of God the Father. In any case, because it was a special event, the Rev. Martin Smith was invited to visit and preach. And what Martin said on the occasion I found rather striking at the time and even more so in the wake of yet another horrifying display of violence and murder - this time in Virginia Beach.

Martin began his sermon by talking about making pilgrimage journeys to some of the well-known sites in the Christian tradition, and then he went on to tell us about going on pilgrimage trips to some of the holy sites of other faith traditions. One of those sites was to a Jain temple in India, the approach to which involved hiking up 10,000 steps to a temple. And in this temple, on a raised platform, are small carvings of dozens of footprints, each set of footprints representing the footprints of famous teachers and practitioners of the Jain religion. The point of the pilgrimage, Martin said, was not to climb 10,000 steps just in order to see a bunch of carved footprints, but rather to meditate on how with each step that we ourselves take, we have the opportunity to leave a mark on the world for good or for ill.  

And for Martin, the way this pilgrimage relates to the theme of Jesus’ Ascension has to do with the way that the Ascension is sometimes represented in Christian iconography and art. Because in many of the depictions of the event of Jesus’ ascension, you don’t actually see Jesus. Or, at least, you don’t see ALL of Jesus. But you do see his feet, still bearing the marks of the wounds he received when he was crucified. 

And there are two important messages in such iconography. One is that Jesus did not ascend into heaven after having cast off the imperfections of the human condition. The mystery of the Ascension is that when Jesus ascended into heaven, he took with him the fullness of the human condition - even the marks of his suffering and death - in order to complete his mission of redeeming a fallen world. In other words, instead of papering over the reality of human pain and suffering or making it magically go away, the ascension of Jesus teaches us that even our pain and suffering are brought before the throne of God so that it might be redeemed. 

And what that means is that no matter how many times we have gathered here or will gather here after hearing news of what seems to be this country’s particular sickness; no matter how many times we struggle with how to respond to destruction and darkness, we believe that somehow, in the mysterious working of God’s grace, even the ugliness of human sin for which there are no words is brought before God. And even though we might wish such sinful ugliness could be erased or forgotten, we believe that somehow, in the mysterious working of God’s grace, it will instead be redeemed.  

The other lesson to learn from the image of Jesus’ feet in iconography of the Ascension is that in every depiction of the Ascension, there are footprints. I’m not speaking here about a small image with ten toes. I mean that in every icon of the Ascension, the disciples are pictured looking up at Jesus as he ascends into heaven. They, in effect, are Jesus’ footprints. If you remember from today’s Gospel reading, Jesus prays for his disciples, asking that God will make them one, “that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Which is to say that it is through his disciples that the world will come to know his presence and love. 

Usually, footprints are a clear indication of someone or something having been in a place. And just as the first disciples were the footprints that Jesus left behind after his ascension, so we are his footprints now. We are called to walk in his steps and to leave behind us evidence that God is still walking among us. 

Practically every Sunday, about half-way through the service, I say the same offertory sentence. “Walk in love as Christ loves us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice for God.” If you are a regular church-goer, that sentence might seem to be nothing more than a formality, or just a ceremonial way of introducing the next part of the service. But I use that sentence a lot because it actually sets the tone for the rest of what we do in church. As in, after hearing the word of God and learning about what it means, we then move into the part of the service where we’re called to do something about it. And the whole point of coming together to celebrate the Eucharist is to empower us not only to make remembrance of the last supper, but also to walk in love; to leave the footprints of Jesus not only on the floor of this chapel but also everywhere we go in the world when we leave this place.  

There is a good reason for us to be Jesus’ footprints in this world. Because there are those who want to erase those footprints. There are forces in the world that want us to reject the notion that gathering in peace - even if we don’t always agree with each other - is a feature of God’s kingdom. There are forces in the world which would have us reject the idea that the sacrificial love of Jesus is something to emulate. There are forces in this world who would rather stamp out the very thought of compassion rather than leave behind any evidence of mercy. But we are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. 

And that means we must patiently and persistently do the work of spreading the gospel even when it looks like our footprints are being ignored or erased. The hope of our calling is that by walking in the way of peace and remaining faithful to this way, others will come to see that it is a way worth following. Once again, we are gathered here with a fresh reminder of how easy it is to choose a path that leads to violence and death. And so, once again, it is worth asking ourselves the question: what sort of a mark do we want to leave on this world? In whose footsteps do we wish to follow?      

God save us.