God’s Grandeur - Sunday after Ascension
We find ourselves here on this rather strange Sunday in the liturgical year - not quite halfway in what is known as novena of prayer between Ascension Day (which we observed last Thursday) and Pentecost which we will keep next week. According to the readings we heard on Thursday, the disciples along with Mary the mother of Jesus were, during this time time, keeping a vigil of constant prayer in an upper room waiting for whatever was going to happen next.
In the church year we keep various times of waiting - Advent anticipates Christmas by examaing the scriptures of old, Lent anticipates Easter by examining our self and our faith, but this little period which doesn’t have it’s own name, anticipates Pentecost in an entirely different way.
Today’s readings are not a huge amount of help in finding a name for it, so these nine days remain ambigously nameless despite being an important period of vilgilance and waiting.
All this may well be deliberate as it suggests an open-handedness, a raw lump of clay, a blank page that has yet to be received, shaped, or drawn. It is an exciting prospect and reminds us that with God, there is always the unexpected around the corner with a God of Surprises, and such ambiguity should always keep us on our toes.
Those of you who study the scriptures will know well that this passage is one section of a long discourse that Jesus has with the Father, and the particular section we have heard this morning relates to his prayer for his disciples and the author of the Gospels boldly, and imaginatively creates a way for us - all these years later - to listen in to the intimate conversation between God and his Son.
If you think of how the other Gospels - the ones authored by Matthew, Mark and Luke - only ever tells us that ‘Jesus went up the mountain to pray’ or give us a single sentance - generally a quote from the psalms - to illustrate this prayer life, you might see how remarkable and bold, ever so bold, this discourse is!
A close look at this prayer, teaches us so much about who Jesus is, who God is, and how Jesus felt about his role and mission upon the earth. And it intercedes, sharing with God the things that the disciples will need, the characteristics, the faith, the resilience, the imagination to bring the fulfilment in them that Jesus anticipates. But if we stand back from the text a little, and just consider it’s context at this point in the church’s year, it becomes a little more remarkable.
It is said that the imagination is the playground of God - the places where dreams are dreamed and visions envisioned - and if one applies just a little bit of imagination beyond the text one sees here the mind of God communing with the mind of Christ - swirling thoughts of prayer that dream and imagine.
It seems to me that, like a potter with a raw bit of clay, a writer with a blank piece of paper, the words shared with God in this prayer begin to shape and form the place and person of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit may not be mentioned once, but she hovers over this text with her wings outstretched and ready to enter the scene. And we see how carefully crafted the Holy Spirit is, shaped and formed to strengthen and equip the disciples in their discipleship - in hearing the truth, in living the word, in walking the way of Christ. Is it too bold to think that the Holy Spirit was being shaped, intentionally and deliberately, to assist us in this way and in this internal dialogue between Christ and God, we see the idea namelessly forming?
It is true, isn’t it that need brings about creativity and solutions. Only this past year we have seen science work tirelessly to create a vaccine and meet the needs created by covid-19. It makes sense that God’s own creativity would do something similar - my goodness, that is even written in our ever-evolving DNA.
In one sense it reminds us of the presence of the Spirit when the church tries, with truth, honesty and intergrity, to meet a true need it has discovered in her midst. Time and time again church congregations will speak of the provision - that appeared at just the right time - perhaps in unexpected ways, or in surprising people, but so often in beautifully ironic, synchronistic or poetic ways.
The Spirit of God isn’t just about dry practicality or ultilitarian provision - she dances on the vocal chords of the singer, she rustles in the bristles of the paintbrush, she breathes in the words of the poet, she weaves her way around the vows of wedding couples and strengthens the pursuit of love whenever and wherever it may be being truthfully pursued. With raw beauty, with nameless prayer, with grace and creativity - as free as the wrods that tumble between God and His Son in today’s Gospel.
And at this point in the Novena, of prayer, the nameless and formless point, where disicples pray with their open hands and prayers speak but their answers remain ambiguous, I would like to ask you all to join in that prayer ... imagining God shaping and forming the future of His holy church in His hands in this very moment, waiting until our hands are sufficiently open, to place the future in our path and to give us the Spirit to live it out.
So, this morning, I am going to leave you with an image of the Holy Spirit, as we prayerfully wait for Whitsun next week, brought to us by Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem - God’s Grandeur
God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell:
the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.