I want to pay my respects here to The Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes of Harvard University who died last night and whom I admired hugely.
Here's an excerpt from a sermon he delivered in 2008 as a guest preacher at Washington's National Cathedral:
Often I have said to my congregation, “If you have had problems with Easter, I can’t wait to tell you about the problems of the Ascension. People will sit around speculating as to the mechanics of it, the physics of it, and how it could be, when the real burden of the Ascension is how we now do Jesus’s work.” At Pentecost we will celebrate the empowering of the church to do that very work by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and I will not anticipate what the preachers of that day will say. I will say that we have a task to perform, we have an opportunity to perform it, and we are required to perform those tasks in the name of Jesus Christ, whose commission to us as he leaves us is to do the work his father has given him to do: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, wage peace and not war, love our enemy, take care of those who are on the margins and fringes, be salt in the world, be light in the darkness. Because we have heard it all before doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, and because we have heard it preached from this and thousands of other pulpits does not mean that it is not still good news. It means that these are our responsibilities, and that now that Jesus has left this world, all that remains of Jesus in this world is us. What an awesome responsibility, that we are meant to be the Christ-bearers in this world! We are not meant only to own his name, to pray to him, to be objects of devotion. We are meant to be Jesus in the world, not simply performing tricks or doing good works. People who have never seen Jesus Christ are to see him in us. What a responsibility! What a frightening task! What a glorious opportunity! I would say that we are meant to be Jehovah’s witnesses.
That might scare some of you, for you have encountered Jehovah’s Witnesses, I know, and you’ve had nothing to say to them. Never argue with a Jehovah’s Witness, for you can’t win. The only way to deal with them is to say, “I too am one of Jehovah’s witnesses, I too bear Christ in the world, and let me tell you about my Saviour…” What an extraordinary thing it would be if, when a Jehovah’s Witness knocked at the door of an Episcopalian the Episcopalian witnessed to the Jehovah’s Witness—the Witnesses would never come back to that house, I can assure you! Everybody would be saved by such an enterprise.
I can just imagine the howls of laughter that this suggestion surely prompted! I wish I had been there.
May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him.
(Note: I was intrigued to find the 15th century miniature of the Ascension posted above. Notice that Christ is not depicted. Rather the angel is asking that marvelous question, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?)