St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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May 24th Ascension Sunday, 2020                     John Marsh

(Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53)

Is this a homily, a meditation, a distraction or just BS?

I don’t know so I’ll leave it to you to decide…


There is an old Talmudic story which speaks of god failing to create the world twenty-six times before finally succeeding. “Let us hope it works,” god exclaimed.¹

This divine hope, this holy yearning is that which I pray for daily with trembling hands²...


The story of the ascension of Jesus is a picture, a metaphor, a figure from a pre-scientific, a pre-Copernican age; it is an impressionistic construction, a work of ‘strong imagination’, which is not to say it is without worth but that it’s speaking a truth beyond facticity, true but not history. ³

Literally understood, it is incredible yet poetically read, something is stirring…

The ascension story is perhaps a way of saying, ‘Something big is happening and we are trying to figure out what it is.’

As we try to figure it out, a fundamental hermeneutical mistake is our refusal to seriously engage the question, ‘Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’ (see Acts 1:11) …

The possibilities stirring within the ascension narrative lay with our willingness to lower our gaze and extend our vision, attending to the marks left on our hearts, the longings, the wounds left by the inbreaking of the unconditional, the stirrings of faith, hope and love. To put it differently, within the story is a call, not to fly higher but to dig deep...

Perhaps an essential truth is hiding in plain view, the messianic one, the one hoped for, dare I say god, leaves us behind - now there’s an unexpected twist to the ‘left behind’ narratives, we’re all left behind!

Is it possible – perhaps – that god, in god’s wisdom, has renounced, emptied god’s self of all power and control, releasing all pretence of omnipotence, taking on the role of a servant (the text says ‘slave’), handing over to us the possibility, the responsibility, the accountability of life attending to life. (see Philippines 2:7)

Perhaps the self-emptying of god is a certain madness (see 1Corinthians 1:25), the folly of allowing the future, the possibilities stirring within faith, hope and love, to fall into our trembling, uncertain hands, hands responsible for so much beauty and beastliness, so much hope and horror…

It is perhaps god’s folly to leave the work of existence (or inexistence) to us…

The ascension, if I may be permitted an imaginative moment, is that story in which the anointed of god says, “I have inspired, called, pointed to life, lured you to faith, hope and love; I will whisper, stir within you, within the world, haunt your imagination, but the work, the failure is yours. I give you a gift freely, without strings attached. It’s up to you to use it or not.”

Let’s be clear (in other words, let me come clean), there is no world but this world which is to say, without the materiality of the world, without the structures of human culture, nothing would be cultivated, accumulated or passed down…

And truth to tell, without the structures of the church, all necessary critiques aside, the memory of Jesus would have been forgotten, with so many dreams left undreamt…

The critique of the world or the church, at least for those of faith and life, is not about the dismissal of structured culture but the haunting dream of cultivating, nurturing and enriching culture, keeping it open to the future, able to reinvent and reproduce itself. ⁴

In other words, the ascension, faith itself, is not about leaving this world behind to inhabit another world; it is to attend that which is growing, implanted in the cracks and crevices, the intersections of this world…

The New Testament way of saying this is, ‘Jesus is Lord’ which is to say Caesar is not (as to whether ‘Caesar’ will continue to exercise lordship - time will tell).⁵

At the very least, something is going on within the phrase ‘Jesus is lord’, a vision perhaps, calling, haunting us, disturbing us, luring us to possibilities of abundant life (see John 10:10).

Perhaps, heeding calls to lower our gaze and risk extending our vision, our conversations, into the world, the neighbourhood, not forgetting what we have seen or done, allowing our work to be informed, reformed, transformed by the material needs, hopes and dreams of the world, we may be inspired, lured by an impossible vision, Jesus is Lord…

 ¹ This text is cited by John Caputo in The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event (Indiana University Press 2006) p.55. It is also cited by Catherine Keller in Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (Routledge 2003) p.193-94.

 ² Hope, even divine hope, has within an uncertainty, the disturbance, the whispered call of the unknowable.

 ³ It is perhaps true that the ascension was the primordial experience of the early church (somewhat sensible if you view the world as the middle of a three-story construction), the resurrection a secondary extrapolation. The resurrection may then be the literalizing of an interior event into an outer, historical event losing any experiential immediacy. See Walter Wink, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of Man (Fortress Press, 2002) p. 155

 ⁴ See John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, (Fortress Press, 2015) p.188ff.

The ethicist Stanley Hauerwas’ way of expressing this is, ‘Jesus is Lord. Everything else is bullshit!’ This may be true but we often settle for bullshit! My father’s way of expressing this latter point was, “Bullshit baffles brains!”