Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 20 May 2012
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20
The resurrection is in many ways the central truth of the Christian faith, but the story is incomplete without the Ascension and Pentecost. In the resurrection, it becomes clear that life triumphs over death, but we still need the ascension for radical transformation to become a possibility for us now. The ascension isn’t just a neat and tidy way of ending the ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ part of the story; it marks a fundamental achievement of Jesus – the taking up of humanity into the Godhead. In the Incarnation heaven comes to earth and in the Ascension the earthly is taken up to heaven. Something essential has happened in God and in humanity which opens up new possibilities for the people of God to be transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit. I won’t get into the theological question of whether God can change in Godself, but I will assert that there is a movement in the God-image within human beings. God has become Christ-like. Our understanding of divine love and our capacity to receive and live it out is radically changed, and with that, our ability to embody a fuller and truer humanity as God intends.
The temptation is always there to let the transformation work the other way around. We have been shaped by hierarchical patterns of power which are an essential part of our traditional God-image. Instead of letting the revelation that God is Christ-like radically reshape our imagination we may try to recast Christ in the image of a powerful earthly ruler. How do we imagine and relate to ‘Christ the King’? Psalm 47, celebrating the enthronement of God as King, uses the metaphor of God as a human monarch, only greater, more just, and more powerful. Jesus of Nazareth deconstructs traditional notions of kingship and gives us a very different image of power. Has the Church allowed that different understanding to permeate all she is and does, or has she returned to more conventional power games, thereby suggesting in action, if not in word, that God is not in fact very like Jesus of Nazareth after all? As Paul reminds us, we have been called, gifted and empowered to be Christ-like. Let us not settle for anything less.