By Porter C. Taylor
Written for Church of the Apostles, KC.

Collect: Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The evangelist and physician, Luke, has provided the church with a wealth of detail, historical context, and beautifully articulated depictions of God’s love for His people and His world. The feast commemorating St. Luke is a wonderful opportunity to explore and celebrate his writings and the collect for the day captures two central themes worthy of deeper examination: “the love and healing power” of Jesus. Year C of the Lectionary, the liturgical year which ends next month, has included a lengthy trek through Luke’s Gospel which will culminate on Christ the King Sunday with the scene of Jesus proclaiming forgiveness from the cross (“Father, forgive them”) and the promise of life after death to the repentant thief. Surely, there can be no better depiction of healing and love than this.

The images of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 are particularly poignant when considering these twin themes because through the stories we see a God who seeks after the least, the last, and the lost. We find a father running to meet his wayward and rebellious son while he was still a long way off and then throw a party for him, complete with fatted calf and signet ring. Love personified in such a way is overwhelming, it is scandalous; it restores, redeems, and heals.

It would be easy to relegate references of healing in Luke’s gospel to stories of physical being ailments reversed, overturned, and wiped away. However, the deeper layer of truth to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is the power of God’s love to heal His people, their land, and His world. Early on in the gospel, we encounter Jesus in the synagogue where He stands up to read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. The passage depicts the year of the LORD’s favor (jubilee) and Jesus read aloud to those gathered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The steadfast, unrelenting, covenant love of YHWH for His people can be tangibly and palpably seen through the hope-filled promise of jubilee. Luke’s gospel shows what this healing love looks like in action: friends lowering their lame companion through a roof; a shepherd searching for the one sheep; a woman looking for a lost coin; a Father restoring his son; Jesus dying on the cross and yet forgiving those who were killing him.

The love of Jesus heals more than just the body; it affects the heart, mind, and soul. Our call, as Christians, is to then love God with all our heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as well. Through this type of love, we praise God in the fullest and purest sense. Luke’s Gospel invites us into such a loving relationship, it beckons us to die to self, to hear Jesus’ absolution from the cross, and to receive His promise of new life. Luke’s story continues in Acts as we discover the gospel bursting forth into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and the faithful witness of the disciples, apostles, martyrs (Wednesday was the lesser feast commemorating Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer who were martyred for their faith in the 16th century), and the early church. This heritage is what should inform us and urge us on toward sharing the love of God with neighbor and stranger alike, just as God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us.

Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name.

(Note: The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes St. Luke as the original iconographer. Here’s an interesting article attributing several icons of Mary to him.)

I wrote this blog post for our parish blog (Church of the Apostles, Kansas City). You can find it here; you should also read the fabulous contributions from far more talented writers in your community, too.

The Feast of the Transfiguration (celebrated August 6) is one of my favorite feasts in the entire church calendar. While other holy days merely commemorate a person or an event, this one is powerful because it is very easy to imagine the palpable glory and majesty which the disciples saw displayed atop Mount Tabor. The Feast of the Transfiguration is a high and holy day (pardon the liturgical pun) because we are invited to ascend the mountain with Jesus and the disciples and there “behold the King in His beauty.”

As with any passage of Scripture, we are invited to dig a little bit deeper and remember other mountain-top and glory-filled encounters. Our minds ought to wander to two scenes in Exodus: first, when YHWH descended upon Mt. Sinai with cloud and smoke before consecrating His people and giving them the law; second, when Moses ascended Sinai and met with YHWH and beheld His glory so much that Moses himself radiated it and had to veil his face from Israel. Moses’ appearance was transfigured because he had been in the presence of the Holy and yet journeyed back down to the people each and every time in order to live out his calling. The awe-some power of God inspired both “the fear of the LORD” and a sense of reverence and worship.

We might also think of Elijah atop Mount Carmel battling the prophets of Baal in the name of YHWH and calling down fire from heaven. Elijah had feared for his life, running from Jezebel, yet ended up proclaiming YHWH’s victory and power against 800 prophets. Elijah did not stay at the summit once he was done, though. He moved on and poured himself into his disciple, Elisha, before being caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. He encountered God both in the silence and the terrifying display of fire, and his life was devoted to calling Israel back to her God. One does not find God and keep the experience private…

Moses and Elijah: prophets and leaders; mountaintop experiences with power and glory; YHWH victorious over all things, reigning over all people. Do you see why our minds wander here? Jesus takes His closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the top of a mountain, and there He appears transfigured, radiant in white, between Moses and Elijah. These holy three discussed Jesus’ impending death and the voice from heaven affirms and validates Jesus’ identity, charging the witnesses to listen and obey. Jesus then sets His face like flint toward Jerusalem and begins His intentional trek toward the cross.

As we read the assigned lesson from Peter’s second epistle, the document he wrote decades after this experience, you can almost feel the emotion pouring forth from Peter’s memory; you can almost see the scene he is recalling. The Transfiguration shaped and transformed Peter in a mighty way. Peter may have descended the mountain with Jesus only to betray Him three times before the crucifixion, but Jesus reinstated Peter and his ministry was faithful unto death. You cannot remain unchanged, unphased, unaffected when you encounter the glory and majesty of the Living God.

The invitation before you today as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration is an invitation to behold the King in His beauty, to taste and see the Lord’s majesty and glory, and to move forward from that holy place into a more faithful expression of obedience. When we focus exclusively on the glorious majesty of God, we are freed from the disquieting distractions of this world; when we look to Christ, we are no longer consumed with external pressures, influences, and burdens which tell us that we need to accomplish/achieve more. I pray that we can all find God in the silence and the awe-some vision of Jesus’ transfiguration and let that encounter spur us on from one degree of glory to the next.

A Sonnet for Pentecost

Let your Spirit fall on your people once again,
Enable and exalt the praise of our corporate, “Amen.”
Fill our hearts and minds with your unending power,
That with adoration and thanksgiving you we shower.
Fulfilling the promises of prophetic days gone by,
Sent from the Godhead seated in the throne on high,
Ever active, ever moving, ever giving life
Guiding the Church as comforter and midwife.
Our hearts burn with a good and holy desire,
To see your flame and be kindled by your fire.
Anoint and sanctify us that we might know your will
Your presence is sufficient, then and still.
You are welcome here, you are welcome in this place;
Come, O Holy Spirit, bless us with thy gift of grace

I like the rich theology of the appointed Collect and Proper Preface for the Feast of Pentecost found in the Book of Common Prayer. However, I felt inspired to offer up a slight variation to be used in either one of those places. As with any Preface/Collect I compose, you could also use this prayer—should you so desire—as an opening preface or closing collect for the Prayers of the People.

Come Holy Spirit!

We praise you O God, who on this day did sent your Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost giving birth to the church. You opened up the gates of eternal life to all people: slave and free, male and female, young and old, Jew and Gentile. Empower us to share your Gospel to peoples of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Grant that we may be anointed afresh by your Spirit, equipped for your ministry, led into all truth, and consecrated for service in your Kingdom, and all for your glory.

(From left:) Christ’s ascent to heaven is depicted in a stained-glass window at 1) St. Clotilde Church in Chicago (Catholic News Service photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World); 2) St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk, N.Y (Catholic News Service photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic); 3) St. Mary’s Basilica in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Catholic News Service photo/Crosiers)
(From left:) Christ’s ascent to heaven is depicted in a stained-glass window at 1) St. Clotilde Church in Chicago (Catholic News Service photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World); 2) St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk, N.Y (Catholic News Service photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic); 3) St. Mary’s Basilica in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Catholic News Service photo/Crosiers)

This post was originally published on the blog for Church of the Apostles, Kansas City.

Today the Church celebrates Ascension Day. The readings for the day are Psalm 47 (or Psalm 93), Acts 1:1-22, Ephesians 1:15-23, and Luke 24:44-53. 

The Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Our family spent the majority of this recent three-day weekend working on jigsaw puzzles. Yes, you heard me right…puzzles: because what would a family with three young boys, two cats, and an overly clumsy/messy father want more than 2,000 tiny little puzzle pieces?! The first puzzle was a whimsical landscape of book covers called “Bedtime Stories,” and our current project is a slightly more involved effort featuring the cover of an edition of The New Yorker. The thrill of finding the corners, then searching for the edges, and then beginning the slow and rewarding work of filling in the center is pretty indescribable…or utterly frustrating, bordering along the lines of existential crisis if things go poorly. I might be a little dramatic about my love of puzzles, but let’s be honest for a minute: The Ascension is one of those theological puzzle pieces which we have a hard time placing. (Bet you didn’t see that transition coming.)

Theologians and biblical scholars have squabbled over the nature of the Ascension; i.e. if heaven isn’t a physical place “above” us then where did Jesus go? Did He really ascend? Did He end up in outer space? You can see how this might become overly taxing. To keep with the analogy, one might say that theologians have disagreed as to whether or not the Ascension is a corner piece (essential to theology), an edge (significant though not necessarily as foundational as a corner), or a center piece (you need it for the overall puzzle but it gets lost in the shuffle).

Instead of arguing about the physics behind Jesus’ Ascension, I think we would be better served to ask two questions: What does it mean, and why does it matter?

We are flooded with follow up questions in our search for understanding: Is the Ascension simply the “ritual act” performed to get Jesus from earth to heaven? Is the only meaning for this day found in the fact that it happens ten days before Pentecost? Or does the meaning stem from the giving of the Great Commission?

At the core, the Ascension is about authority and power.

We would be right in highlighting Jesus’ statement to the disciples that they should wait in the city until “clothed with power from on high.” This is clearly a foretelling of Pentecost and Spirit-power. We would also be correct in mentioning Jesus’ statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” and that it is this clause which grounds the Great Commission. However, we do not go far enough if this is our only discussion of power and authority.

The primary focus of these Ascension stories is not the power which is soon to come to the disciples, but the fact that Jesus has all power in heaven and on earth and that He is ascending to the right hand of the Father from whence He will rule over all things. In fact, He is ruling over all things. Now. Here in the present tense. This is why Paul can write to the church in Colossae and say:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The disciples were witnesses to the Ascension and after worshipping Jesus—something reserved only for God—they bore witness to His power and authority through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The power which clothed them on high was none other than the power and authority of Jesus. After the Resurrection, Jesus told His disciples that He was giving them His peace, now He has given His authority as well. The disciples were to baptize, teach, proclaim, drive out demons, heal the sick, and profess the faith of Christ crucified, risen, and exalted.

We miss this point when we get lost in the minutiae of the puzzle as we seek to put yet another random piece next to another. We need to zoom out, as it were, and look at the puzzle box to the see the whole picture. Seen in proper context, the Ascension is the culmination of Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. The power of God, His majestic and cosmic authority, is portrayed most fully and tangibly through the person of Jesus. We celebrate the Ascension because we celebrate this power, Jesus’ reign and rule over all things. We are lovingly and graciously beckoned to participate as co-regents, co-rulers of the Kingdom; the meaning of Ascension, however, is not about what we get but who Jesus is.

Reflect on this as you proclaim your faith through the words of the Nicene Creed. As you say, “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end…” Jesus high and lifted up, seated upon the throne, ruling over all things, reigning over all that is seen and unseen, that is Ascension. That is our feast. He is seated upon the throne having been exalted there by the Father and it is from there that He rules over all.