Patience as Divine Power


Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things. Mercifully give us faith to trust that, as he promised, he abides with us on earth to the end of time, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“While [Jesus] was blessing [the disciples], he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” Luke 24:51.

“On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Second Article, Nicene Creed

The one singular event that influenced my thinking on this week’s texts and the Feast of the Ascension is the coronation of King Charles the Third. It is impossible to watch a ritual of such opulence and splendor without being impressed. It calls to mind the words of this Sunday’s psalm acclaiming God as king of all the earth.

God has gone up with a shout,
   the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
   sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
   sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations;
   God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
   as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
   he is highly exalted.

In all likelihood, this psalm was adapted from a Canaanite coronation ceremony, though echoes of its refrains can be seen in the coronation traditions of Israel as well. II Samuel 15:10; II Kings 9:13; and II Kings 11:12. See The Psalms, Arthur Weiser (c. 1962 S.C.M. Press, Ltd.) p. 375. In its final form, however, the psalm is clearly focused on the reign of God over all the earth. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Psalm 24:1. The nations, including Israel, are but a “drop in the bucket.” Isaiah 40:15. All other claims of sovereignty are, at most, contingent. Consequently, the crowning of a British monarch is but a pale reflection of the worship of the One who needs no coronation.

No doubt the makers of the lectionary intended to juxtapose this psalm of praise with Jesus’ ascension. Throughout the centuries, this critical part of the gospel narrative has been portrayed artistically in terms of a glorious apotheosis. The above icon is an example of such art. There is nothing wrong in these portrayals, though they are sometimes subject to misinterpretation. One example is the now rightly disfavored, but once prominent tradition of extinguishing the Easter pascal candle on Ascension Sunday. Whatever else this practice might have intended to convey, it strongly suggests that the Ascension is Jesus’ departure to some distant place, only to return at some time in the indefinite future. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “right hand of God,” which is biblical shorthand for the agency of God in creation, is not located somewhere “beyond the blue.” To the contrary, the right hand of God is everywhere God is active which is, well, everywhere. Thus, Jesus is not leaving his disciples or the world he came to save. Rather, he is now more intensely present than ever before. As the hymn says:

      Christ is alive!     

No longer bound

to distant years in Palestine,

but saving, healing, here and now,

and touching ev’ry place and time.

“Christ is Alive,” by Brian A. Wren, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; pub. by Augsburg Fortress) Hymn #389.

One of my seminary professors, Gerhard Forde by name, used to say that Jesus is God’s “isser.” That is to say, Jesus is God’s way of being present to creation. It is critical to understand in this connection that Jesus is not God. Rather, God is Jesus. The distinction is important because if we begin with the assertion that Jesus is God, we end up trying to understand Jesus by infusing him with all the attributes we think we know to be God’s. I believe that the great Christological debates throughout history have been complicated by this confusion, resulting in endless efforts to reconcile the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God with the Jesus who got tired and crabby, hungry and thirsty, bled and died. But as John the Evangelist reminds us, “No one has ever seen God.”  John 1:18. We know nothing about God beyond what God reveals to us. When an exasperated Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied,” Jesus replied “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:8-9. Jesus is all the God there is.

Because Jesus is at the right hand of God, is the right hand of God, we know how God exercises God’s reign over creation. God rules the world through limitless love, unconditional forgiveness and eternal patience. This is not the god who appeals to our appetite for measurable progress, demonstrable results or easy solutions. Love will not stop bad things from happening to good people, prevent school shootings or end wars of aggression. It will, however, outlast them. I Corinthians 13:13. God’s might is God’s patience.

Most of the world would prefer a god who “fixes things,” solves problems, answers prayers for wealth, success and personal happiness. “Give us burly gods to pummel the world and us,” says the poet. The god professed by the late Tim Lahaye, a god who will simply rapture us out of our problems, violently destroy those we deem wicked and usher in a heavenly existence appeals to people who are angry, frightened, feeling helpless and who lack the conceptual tools for figuring out why.  So, too, the appeal of Hitlers, Mussolinis and Trumps who spew hatred against our perceived enemies and promise a better world built over their corpses. Human leaders of this kind have been too common throughout history. Thankfully, there is no god in their image.

If I were to portray graphically the miracle of the Ascension, I think I would show the resurrected Christ disintegrating into a billion particles that, in turn, infuse every molecule and every subatomic particle in the universe. For better or worse, however, graphic artistic expression is not my gift. I can imagine well enough. Draw or paint, not so much. Suffice to say, faith believes, even in the face of mass shootings, the threat of nuclear war and the continuing rise of white supremacy, that the Triune love poured out into the world through the faithful life, obedient death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ holds the universe together against all the powers of evil that would rip it apart.

Here is a poem by Father Daniel Berrigan with an expression of such faith and the difficulty of hanging onto it.



          why illness

an odious plague dispersed

settles again after deep knives made

of the loved face a tragic mask.


          why after one

tentative promise

raised like a green denial of death,

life resumes

its old mortician method after all.


        why men break

in the kiln, on the wheel; men made of the sun,

men sprung from the world’s cry; the only men,

literal bread and wine, the crucial ones

poured out, wasted among dogs. Wonder,

And the lees of men, the stale men, there

in the fair vessels, a mock feast;

take it or leave-nothing else in the house.


          at omnipresence of grey minds,

the shade of that made

O years ago, ash of the rowdy world.


          at incapacity of love;

a stern pagan ethic, set against Christ at the door

(the discomfiting beggar, the undemanding poor).


          woman and man, son and father

priest and sacrifice-to all right reason

one web of the world, one delicate

membrane of life. Ruptured.


Transcendent God does nothing.

The Child plays

among the stocs and stones

A country almanac

moon phase, sun phase


records and elements, grey dawn and red;

He sleeps and stands again,

moony, at loss, a beginner in the world.

History makes much of little, bet He

of clay and Caesars, nothing.

There is no god in Him. Give us burly gods

to pummel the world and us, to shake its tree

quail and manna at morning!

Wonder, wonder,

                           across his eyes

the cancerous pass unhealed, evil

takes heat monstrously. What use

the tarrying savior, the gentle breath of time

that in beggars is continuous and unruly,

that in dumb minds comes and chimes and goes

that in veins and caves of earth

sleeps like a tranced corpse, the abandoned body

of violated hope?


given such a God, how resolve the poem?

Source: Selected & New Poems, (c. 1973 by Daniel Berrigan, pub. by Doubleday & Company, Inc.) pp. 133-134. Daniel Berrigan was born May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minnesota. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson, New York in August 1939 and graduated in 1946. Thereafter, he entered the Jesuit’s Woodstock College in Baltimore graduating in 1952. He was ordained the same year and appointed professor of New Testament studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse in 1957. Berrigan is remembered by most people for his anti-war activities during the Vietnam era. He spent two years in prison for destroying draft records, damaging nuclear warheads and leading other acts of civil disobedience. He also joined with other prominent religious figures like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to found Clergy and Laity Against the War in Vietnam. In February of 1968 he traveled to North Vietnam and returned with three American prisoners of war he convinced the North Vietnamese to release. Berrigan died on April 30, 2016 of natural causes at a Jesuit health care facility in the Bronx. He was 94 years old.

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