Embraced by God’s Love
The Rev. Leonard B. Oakes
May 20, 2012
There have been great celebrations of 50th anniversaries I and my wife Haidee have attended this week. Last night, I had the honor to do the invocation for the 50th Golden anniversary of The Philippine Association of University Women USA at the Holiday Inn in South San Francisco. Some of the members and past presidents, as well as founders of this association are members of this Church.
As much as I wouldn’t like to mention, it’s one of those moments where I had to spread my time to accommodate the requests of others. Haidee and I had to sneak out from that celebration to attend another 50th anniversary, this time it was a wedding anniversary of a fraternal brother at the Armenian Cultural Center at Brotherhood Way in San Francisco. Mrs. Alice Bulos, a well prominent symbol of Filipino leadership in the Bay Area, would agree that she had done the same several times to show support to all that would be honored with her presence. Mrs. Bulos added that her husband had to be wherever she was and be visible to the community. I am thankful that Haidee is always there when she is available to be present.
Today however, it may not be a 50th anniversary celebration that I and Haidee celebrate with you, but a 40th day after Easter which we otherwise call “Ascension Day”
For the past seven weeks we have been celebrating the most joyous season of the Church liturgical year. The Easter season has filled us with immense joy and profound hope. The Lord has truly risen.
Today, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven. The risen and glorified Jesus physically returns to the Father. We await with joyful expectation his return in glory. Where he has gone, we hope to follow. Our ultimate goal is to get to heaven where our Lord Jesus promised to prepare a place for us.
What is Heaven? Heaven has been defined for us in the Catechism of the Episcopal Church with these words: “eternal life in our enjoyment of God.”
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of this mystery through images. He calls it the kingdom, a place of life, light and peace. He refers to it as a wedding feast, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem and paradise.
Saint Paul tells us that “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2: 9). And Saint John tells us that in Heaven “we shall see him as he really is” (1 John 3: 2).
Life confined to the boundaries of time and space without the promise of eternal life would be cruel and unbearable to live. Without the certainty of an eternal paradise, the trials and tribulations of this present life would have no meaning and purpose.
The judgments of time will be corrected by the judgments of eternity. The injustices of this world will be replaced by the justice of the world to come. The tears shed now, will be replaced by the joy lived forever in eternal life.
This past week was also a difficult week for some of our members. The Aquino family bears the burden of the loss of their brother Noli Aquino, whom we have been praying for some time. To Becky and the rest of the Aquino family, please accept our deep condolences. We are here as a shoulder to lean on, a hand to reach out. We will walk with your sorrow and try to bring joy, the joy our Lord Jesus Christ has shared to us.
Another soul just passed, Luz De Leon, the sister of Mila Abuda and the mother of Wilma De Leon, whom we have been praying for, also passed due to old age. At the viewing, Monsignor Ponferrada, a retired Roman Catholic Priest, asked me to share memories and thoughts before the family and their relatives. I shared about dying as a gradual diminishing and final vanishing over the horizon of life. When we watch a sailboat leaving a port and moving toward the horizon, it becomes smaller and smaller until we can no longer see it. But we must trust that someone is standing on a faraway shore seeing that same sailboat become larger and larger until it reaches its new harbor. Death is a painful loss. When we return to our homes after a burial, our hearts are in grief. But when we think about the One standing at the other shore eagerly waiting to welcome our beloved brother or sister into a new home, a smile can break through our tears. That is the greatest miracle, the greatest consolation that we receive from our loving God. Love transcends beyond the grave. Jesus Christ had to ascend to heaven to prepare us a place and look forward in welcoming us when our time comes to meet God.
In the word of Archbishop Desmond Tutu during an interview on mission on the 21th century held at Washington National Cathedral, he pointed out, “Jesus said, not that there will be joy in heaven but rather there is greater love in heaven and if Jesus be lifted up, he draws not some but all will be drawn to God’s incredible embrace.”
The martyrs throughout the history of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church were able to sustain unbearable trials precisely because they were certain of a place called Heaven. They were able to persevere and resist sin because their love for the next life was greater than their love for this present life.
There is a Heaven and we need to get there. There is a Hell, and we need to do everything that we can to avoid the possibility of losing our immortal soul. Our number one priority is to get to Heaven. Ascension is about our destiny. It says that we are destined to a life beyond the one which we now enjoy. We are destined to be with God in a union which cannot be destroyed by death.
Ascension is about our present world. It calls us Christians to continue the mission of Christ on earth. Christ’s mission was not just to give us hope for the future, but to change the quality of life here and now, so that we can begin to experience already now the riches of eternal life to come.
Ascension is about ending and beginnings. On the day of his ascension, Christ’s personal ministry on earth ended, but the operation of the Holy Spirit in his followers to continue his ministry began. Once the liturgical celebration of the feast of ascension is over, our work of witnessing to whatever we believe in Christ has to begin. We come to church to praise God, to hear his word and to eat his bread. But we don’t stand here all day looking up to heaven. We leave this place to witness to Christ in the world. Christ has no one else except us, to continue his mission. As Teresa of Avila would put it; “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he is to look out to the world with compassion; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
As Easter leaves us, let us wholeheartedly welcome Pentecost when we celebrate the 50th day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, our counselor and advocate. May you all be blessed and hold each other dearly in these days to come. Amen.