A Reflection on the Gospel
for May 17, 2015,
The Sunday after the Ascension
by David Somerville+
Founder of the fashion brand that modernized the woman’s look in the years after World War I, Coco Chanel, had an idea that she called “elegance”. Judging from what she said about this ineffable quality, it is a fair guess that Chanel’s idea is pretty close to what we would call “spiritual maturity”. So what did she say about this quality? “[It] is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence….”
So, What else is new?
One thing about adolescence that I find striking is this: When I feel like I have finally escaped from it, that is strong evidence that I have not, because being over-confident is one of its more prominent traits.
Adolescence is as confusing as it is dynamic. Any parent of young adults will tell you this, and many of them will roll their eyes in thanksgiving for not having to go through the trials of guiding an adolescent to adulthood again. It is a time of rapid changes all over a young person’s body and mind. It involves upheavals in hormonal chemistry that are not generally comfortable. Boys get acne; girls worry about whether their bodies will develop the right features soon enough so that they will be attractive during Spring break. Moods and emotions go through upheavals. Young people don’t generally understand what is happening to them, and they have periods of anxiety over whether they are normal or freaky.
Neurologists tell us that the adolescent brain is not yet equipped to control impulses. They make mistakes as they struggle with choices — What they want to do immediately must wait until the things that must be done are done first. They want to be popular among their peers, but oftentimes they find themselves struggling to get “one up” on their peers.
The list of issues that challenge adolescents could go on forever. That is the bad news. The good news is that the roiling storm of adolescence does not go on for ever. It levels out — for the most part. But one thing to remember about this bothersome condition: It is one of God’s favorite raw materials. In God’s creative work with his children, God molds and perfects their nature. (As parents, we often find God to be really slow at this, and that is frustrating. It is also a sign of our own post-adolescence issues).
Adolescence is like the white hot metal between the black smith’s hammer and anvil. It involves the steady, but uncomfortable heat tolerated by the smith who is confident both in himself and his tools. There is more heat than light in this process to the human observer, but the smith knows what he is doing.
Tradition calls the season that climaxes with the ten days from the Ascension to Pentecost “the Great Fifty Days of Easter.” It has a different character from the weeks after Pentecost. The Green days of Spring to late Fall is the season of the living, adult church in action; its symbols are about a church in the youthful prime of her life.
As we anticipate the season of stable fecundity all the way from next week until Advent, it will be helpful to take a retrospective look at the seven weeks after the day of our Lord’s resurrection before they recede into the past once again without notice. What special role can the fifty days of Easter play as a “chapter” in the ongoing story that is both the church year, and also a parable of our growth in the risen Lord’s stature?
One answer to that question is to call the season by another name, “The Lesser Fifty Days”. Things get greater and better after after the coming of the Strengthener, the Holy Spirit.
This upcoming Sunday after the Ascension marks the end of a grand season of joy to be sure. But for the original twelve, there was much healing to work through as the community recovered from the brokenness of shattered dreams.
The fellowship of the surviving eleven, plus Matthias, was not yet up to the task of functional ministry. They were like a person who woke up from an accident with amputation, blood loss, and paralysis. The story from the upcoming lesson in the Book of Acts is about how this injured embryo of the new Israel, eleven spiritually traumatized individuals, needed the wholeness of a replacement, a twelfth. They had become aware that their Lord lives, but they had not totally integrated this new reality to themselves; their transformation from it had only just begun. It was slow, a jerky-jerky series of mistakes and learnings. The survivors’ life in the flesh continued to be ravaged by their struggle to live in a world ignorant of its redemption. Except for a few, the word had not yet gotten out. These proto-evangelists were not at the spiritual competence level required by the task. They, as their “lesser” selves, had not yet come to terms with the new reality — that death had lost its upper hand. The new Israel was still recovering from all the injuries of Holy Week; so it had not grown to anywhere near its full maturity.
The Great Fifty Days, then, is like the adolescence of a community that had lost a lot, but not its future potential. It clearly needed to do something — something like a recovery in strength and healing so as to be able move out from the closed doors of fear, and go back to work with confidence. This is what the spiritually mature church needs. We know this is also what the Church got. That is why we are here today.
Note to the reader: I use two excellent sources without which, I could not do this series with some accurate sources of information:
- SermonWriter – Resources for Lectionary Preaching http://www.sermonwriter.com/
2 Oxford Biblical Studies http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/