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Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15–23; Luke 24:44–53

Some of the best spiritual teachers are not theologians, or academics, but musicians.

One of my treasured spiritual teachers is Bruce Cockburn. He’s fairly well known in Canada, but if you haven’t heard him, you should really acquaint yourself with his work, which is heavily informed by his own faith.

Over the last year, I’ve found myself meditating on his haunting piece “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” I’d previously considered this title through a political lens, but today I think it’s a really apt description of a Christian as well. We are and always have been, in a sense, lovers in a dangerous time.

I think for today’s Ascension Sunday, for the Sunday after our Diocesan Synod, and for my last sermon in this community, it seems appropriate to share this with you, and use it as a lens through which to consider the Gospel passage before us. We’ll go through it verse by verse. If you know it I invite you to join in.

The song begins:

“Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by / You never get to stop and open your eyes;

One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall / The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all,

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time.”

Days after the earth-shattering execution of their teacher and beloved friend, the disciples suddenly find themselves confronted by his impossible return. But Jesus is not as he once was. His actions are familiar – he offers peace and wisdom to his friends – but he demonstrates a newfound power by somehow withdrawing into heaven. Here again, somehow, is the teacher, familiar but irrevocably changed. The disciples must have been so confused. They had seen the sky fall…and now, watching the teacher ascend, were dazzled.

God surely continues to confuse and dazzle us to this day, for how indeed can one so vast, so incomprehensible, have lived among us, walked dusty streets, ate and drank, overturned tables, wiped away tears, and suffered? How, and why would this be so?

The teacher has changed – but the relationship has not.

And so we are called to walk the balance between that sky-is-falling awe and that dazzled-by-the-beauty reverence. How awesome...but dangerous. For a God that chose to walk among us and suffer great pain is surely a stranger and more powerful God than we could ever comprehend.

Let’s go on to verse 2.

“These fragile bodies of touch and taste / This vibrant skin, this hair like lace;

Spirits open to the thrust of grace / Never a breath you can afford to waste

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time.”

When Jesus returns, the disciples encounter a presence that is corporeal. In the scene which surrounds the verses we just read, Jesus asks for, receives, and eats a piece of broiled fish. Then he shows them his hands and his side. He has not returned to them whole, perfect and unblemished as Passover lambs were required to be. This is a disabled god. Quick sidebar: Disability theology affirms that the risen Christ, disabled on the Cross, has sanctified what the world deems as broken. Incarnation doesn’t work if it’s just for the beautiful, the strong, or the well-regarded. Physicality means variation, fallibility, and finitude. God accepted all of that, choosing a fragile body well versed in the giving and receiving of loving touch, driven by the physical and spiritual hungers we all know, with a spirit open to the thrust of grace.

Knowing this, it is a fallacy to ask how our fragile, fractured, obstreperous Anglican Church could possibly profess to be a channel for the Holy Spirit, or call ourselves the Body of Christ – something that many people ask after sitting through their first Synod. Driven by the need to connect, the need to touch, we gather together, share stories, to pray for one another, and to share a sign of peace. Driven by hunger, we feed our bodies with the blessed broken body and blood, and our souls with the words of Scripture. There are few better illustrations of Christ’s Body. We also participate in Christ’s death and resurrection when we are baptized. We are believers who have not seen Jesus with our eyes. We walk by faith, given a spirit of wisdom and revelation through our ancestors in faith, who like the travelers to Emmaus shared the story of the risen one opening the Scriptures, and being known in the breaking of bread.

Knowing this, we must commit our fragile bodies to work for justice and peace – not just for people, but for the whole creation, which has been hallowed. We must allow our spirits to be open to the thrust of grace. And how appropriate that in Biblical Greek, the word “spirit” is the same as the word for “breath.” ‘Never a breath you can afford to waste,’ through that lens, is a call to put our spirit, our energy, toward that which is good – as we explored at Synod, where our theme was “Hold fast to that which is good.”

Last verse:

“When you’re lovers in a dangerous time / Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time.”

It’s dangerous to proclaim that the Source of all life walked among us when we live in a world which often proclaims an absent watchmaker God, or atheistic chaos. It’s dangerous to proclaim that flesh is holy in a world which teaches us to force the body to conform to an ideal, which privileges young and able bodies over old or disabled ones, and which makes it easier to be cheap and wasteful than costly and gentle. It’s dangerous to proclaim that the world is not as it should be; that we are too enamoured of our divisions; that we should be more vulnerable, more open, more trusting; in a world which embraces promises of walls and security and conformity.

Sometimes, you might be made to feel like your love of the other, your work for justice, your stubborn insistence on communion with instead of rejection of your enemy, is a crime.

And that’s why I think it’s beautiful that in our passage today, Jesus implores the disciples to stay in the city until they are clothed with power. They do not go out into the wilderness, or return to their homes in gentle green Galilee, to prepare themselves to receive that power. They stay in the city – the dirty, dangerous city – until they are commissioned to go out in ever stranger and more dangerous places. It’s especially poignant to me that Jesus leads them out to Bethany to witness the Ascension: Bethany, which in 2004 was bisected by the West Bank wall and now requires a lengthy drive and a checkpoint to access. Not in the Temple, or the sacred city of Jerusalem, but Bethany, where Mary and Martha made their home, and where their descendants struggle to earn a living now that the main road has been split in two.

A broken place where a broken Christ ascends in glory.

A dangerous place, where a ragtag group of Apostles receive a message that is hopeful for us, but dangerous for an Empire: that sins can be forgiven, that freedom is possible, that darkness can bleed daylight.

We are lovers in a dangerous time. And how much more precious is love when the time is dangerous, just like light is so much more beautiful when surrounded by darkness.

Dear friends, with whom I have loved and lived and prayed, I implore you then to hold fast to what is good. Thank you for your love, to me and to the world in which you serve. I thank God for you, and I always will.  

We’ll conclude with a prayer from William Sloane Coffin.

“May God grant us the courage never to sell ourselves short; the courage to risk something big for something good; the grace to know that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.”