From The Blog

Mission Monthly – June-July 2009

“And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

The Gospel of St. Luke 24:52-53

On the last Sunday of Pascha I mentioned how proud I am of our church family for the way joy has been expressed for the entire Pascha season. For me, as life returns to somewhat of a “normal” rhythm following Lent, Holy Week and Pascha, I have to ask myself what it is that gives us the environment of joyafter the first week or so of Pascha has passed, especially when so many of societies rhythms run against the Church's rhythms, and when there are so many distracting responsibilities to return to after the immediacy of the Feast.

These last two verses of the Gospel of St. Luke are very inspiring as the exemplary apostolic response to the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus had been crucified and buried and the Apostles had spent forty days as witnesses to the risen Christ. Just prior to these verses Jesus “opened” the e's minds to understand the scriptures regarding the Christ, after which He “parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” We can only wonder at their response of great joy: it was such that it led them continually to the temple, and as we read in the first chapter of Acts, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (v.14).

To what can we compare their joy? I recently saw the PBS American Experience special on the Kennedys. In the 1960's, America and the world were dealt three great blows which, at least in the eyes of the world, took the wind out of the sails of those working with hope and determination for peace and civil justice. Can we compare the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy to that of the murder of Jesus? Of course not. But maybe through the unfolding events of those terrible years we can get a sense of how deflated the apostles may have felt when Jesus and all he stood for was seemingly taken from them. And maybe we can also sense their deep joy once the risen Christ restored their Hope!

I emphasize these swings of emotion to bring into view the need to examine our own sensibilities, and whether or not we recognize today the same unrelenting presence of social chaos faced by the Apostles, and whether or not we are truly seeking the One who can renew in us the same “great joy.”

There was a strange phenomenon which occurred in the parish this year following Pascha. While I am very proud of the beautiful and dedicated effort of our community during Lent and Holy Week, and while I experienced a sense of Paschal joy in my personal interactions with individuals in the days and weeks following the Feast, what I did not experience was what I expected might be an enthusiastic liturgical response to the Resurrection as described in the lives of the Apostles and followers of Jesus. Instead I was quite surprised by an immediate drop off in liturgical attendance beginning with the Bright Week Vesperal Liturgy and the Sunday of St. Thomas. While on subsequent Sundays during the Paschal season attendance did pick up, the weekday and Saturday services were startlingly sparse. Since then I have heard talk of illness, travel, and simply being exhausted. I guess I am pastorally concerned, but hopeful, that our Paschal joy will one day reflect more of a response similar to that of the Apostles; a response of more time spent in the “temple” blessing God, a response of a greater devotion to prayer; a response of refreshment rather than a response of exhaustion. If there is one thing I am sure of, the “great joy” of the Apostles was a vital reflection of their freedom from sin and the cares of this life, a freedom that only comes from a true and deep adoration of the resurrected Christ.

In a recent issue of Touchstone Magazine there was a letter to the editor whose author commented on how prior to the modern era life in the Church for the Christian was THE source of life, fellowship, anticipation and participation. And that since the advent of industrialization, modern technology and entertainment the Church, in its inability to “compete,” has become marginalized, old fashioned, an inconvenient obligation and, as many parents have heard coming from the mouths of their children, “boring.” This is a tragic transformation of Christian life, resulting from our culture of “enlightenment,” where men flee from the very things sought after by the most faithful of believers and vigorously pursue the very things the faithful of old sought to escape.

Beloved, thereis a source of joy and renewal and life available to us. The Apostles and followers of Jesus knew where to find it. As the months and seasons of our lives progress may we find in the expressed adoration of God the true and only source of “great joy,” and the will to immerse ourselves in it. Against all distraction and allure offered to us by a world consumed in its own consumption, our “return,” again and again, to the heavenly Jerusalem in the Temple of God's holiness, will become the greatest joy, refreshment and single-minded focus of our lives and, most importantly, of our faith and life in Jesus Christ!