The Collect for the seventh Sunday of Easter
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
Her extended battle with cancer, lasting over a couple years, did not diminish her poise or grace or strength. A bit of a steel magnolia, she navigated the illness and treatments with calm equanimity. On one of my visits as her rector, I mustered the courage to ask her how she did it. She smiled and looked at me as if to say: “O you poor clueless clergyman.” She was too kind to say that, but here’s what she did say: “You know, God never promised me wealth or health or even that I would be happy. But God did promise that I’d never be left alone.”
We talked about how she was experiencing God’s presence. Some of it had to do with the ways her faith community attended to her. She spoke of the support of spouse and other family members. And she spoke of her faith. She did not explicitly name the Holy Spirit. She didn’t need to.
The collect we heard in church yesterday (see above) is read on the Sunday after the Ascension Day. It references that mysterious moment when the risen Christ is taken up to heaven. My mind is too small to figure out the physics, logistics, or optics, but the upshot is that the disciples could have felt like they had been left alone, abandoned, that they were on their own. I feel like these are questions that would have been on the minds of the disciples, posed by Jesus’ ascension: What happens now? What’s next? Where do we go from here? Who will go with us? These are questions disciples still ask. I ask them a lot.
Jesus’ final words to his disciples, as told in the Gospel of Matthew, include the promise that he will be with them to the end of the ages. That promise is made to us as well. If someone asked you to describe the way that you sense that presence, what would you say? Do you have a sense of that presence?
These days, I can forget what I did or said yesterday, but I remember a series of talks given by Dr. James Kay, of Princeton Theological Seminary more than 30 years ago. He explored the variety of ways that people experience Christ’s presence, an interesting take on the various branches of the Jesus movement.
For some, perhaps in the Protestant tradition, Christ is present in the scripture, the word preached and heard. For others, Christ is present in the sacrament of bread and wine. And so we sing: “Come risen Lord and deign to be our guest. Nay, let us be thy guest. The feast is thine.” (Hymn 306) For some in Eastern traditions, Christ’s presence is experienced in iconography, just one of the ways that beauty mediates Christ’s presence in all of the arts, and especially in the beauty of creation, which we’re told is Christ’s artwork. For others, Christ’s presence is felt in the striving for justice and peace, in the work of liberation, as we hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew: “As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Mystics may experience Christ’s presence in times of prayerful silence.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it does indicate the richness of the experience of Christ’s risen presence, as one we love but see no longer.
So folks, we’ve still got a few more days in the Easter season, given to remind us that our lives unfold in the presence of a risen savior who is still active in our lives, and who promised to never leave us alone. There are many ways to experience that liveliness. How are you experiencing it these days? In what ways might you wish to experience it more deeply? Pray towards that end this week.