Sermon for the Sunday after Ascensionadmin | 16 May 2010
“The Lord is King”
Three psalms begin with the words “The Lord is King,” psalms 93, 97 and 99. In the psalter of The Book of Common Prayer, these three psalms have the same Latin title, Dominus regnavit. It means “the Lord rules,” in other words, “the Lord is King.” The inclusion of the Latin titles, invariably taken from the first words of the psalms in their Latin translation, reminds us of the long and rich tradition of prayer and spirituality to which we are connected. The Latin psalms, in some sense, shaped the thought-world of the West for more than a thousand years. Our Prayer Book honours that heritage and legacy.
“The Lord is King”signals that the God of Israel is the King of all creation. For Christians that kingship is made visible in the paradox and wonder of Christ crucified and dead, and then, Christ risen and ascended; in short, the cross and the glory.
We meet in the Ascension of Christ. Thursday was Ascension Day, the culmination of the resurrection and the celebration of the homecoming of the Son to the Father having accomplished “the will of the one who sent [him].” It is a time of great rejoicing, a time of great glory. “God has gone up with a merry noise,”as the gradual psalm so wonderfully puts it. The Son returns to the Father. Today is The Sunday after Ascension. In the meaning of the Ascension we celebrate the Session of Christ at the right hand of the Father. He “ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father” as we just said in the Creed. What does it mean?
It signals the gathering into glory of what we heard and saw on the Cross on Good Friday, “it is finished,” meaning accomplished and concluded.“The end of all things is at hand,” says St. Peter, but that end is in the hands of God, in the hands of the Son who sits at the right hand of God. It is an image of rule and majesty, of power and dominion, but one that has gathered into that rule all the misrule of human sin and folly. The Ascension and the Session of Christ proclaim Christ as Pantocrator, ruler of all. That rule is the rule of divine reason. O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas. “O thou who dost rule the world with everlasting reason,” as a Christian philosopher, Boethius, puts it. He was contemporary with St. Benedict who founded Benedictine monasticism in the sixth century. The labours and liturgy of Benedictine monasticism, especially through the psalm offices, would shape Europe and those lands which are the children of Europe; in short, the modern world in its medieval legacy and roots. The Book of Common Prayer is very much indebted to the tradition of Benedictine spirituality and reflects much of its contemplative spirit.
Christ sits on the throne of God. His exaltation is no mere power trip. In his exaltation, as the ancient fathers put it, is “the exaltation of our humanity.” All rule and power ultimately share in the rule and power of God. “Thou couldst have no power at all against me,” Jesus says to Pilate, “except it were given thee from above.” All power and authority ultimately derive from God. And in the going forth and return of the Son to the Father, all that belongs to sin and death has been gathered into the reign of God.
It means that the experiences of our lives in all of their complexity and confusion are not without meaning, provided they are gathered into the rule of God in Christ. He sits “at the right hand of the Father” having accomplished all that he was sent to do. It is ‘mission accomplished,’ we might say, but it remains for us to realize that “mission” in our own lives. How? Through compassionate service and passionate prayer, through the consecration of our lives to God in prayer and praise, in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated. It means lifting up to God all the affairs and concerns of our world and day, placing everything, ourselves included, in the ruling mercy of “the risen, ascended and glorified” Christ. And it means that continual aspect of waiting upon God, signaled so marvelously in our liturgy in the “Sursum Corde.””Lift up your hearts.” It is, we might say, the meaning of prayer, namely, the lifting up of all things to God.
In the session of Christ, we wait purposefully for the promised descent of the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the truth and words of Christ and who guides us through those words and not away from them into all truth. The going forth of the Son to the Father is, as we have said, the condition of God’s being with us in the power of the Spirit. This is the promise of the Father and the Son. We live in that promise now. Where and how? In the Church, the body of Christ.
May is Mary’s month, the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, observes, seeing the connection between Mary and the joy of spring. The Church, too, is like Mary in her waiting upon the Word and Will of God, in her magnifying the Lord, in her pondering in her heart the words of Christ, in her gathering into her soul all the things of the world. May, Mary, and the Ascension all signal our being with Christ where he is with the Father through prayer and praise.
“All things rising, all things sizing/ Mary sees, sympathizing/ With that world of good/ Nature’s motherhood.” Mary “mothers each new grace” and in her we contemplate our spiritual good which embraces all our natural lives and bestows upon them dignity and grace. It is the dignity and grace of Christ being with us through her so that we can be with him where he is with her. “She holds high motherhood/ towards our ghostly good/ And plays in grace her part/ About man’s beating heart.”
In prayer we honour the reason and the will of God signaled most profoundly in the Ascension and the Session of Christ. It is the profoundest counter to our practical fears and worries. The Lord is King is the proclamation that checks the petty tyrannies of our will and pride and places us in the mercy and truth of God. We have only to will it. The challenge of our lives is to attend to the grace that plays about our beating hearts, knowing that “the Lord is King.”
“The Lord is King”
Fr. David Curry
The Sunday after Ascension 2010