Now What? The Church Gets to Work

A Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has ascended into heaven and sends us out as apostles. Amen.

“In those days,” our reading from Acts begins.

What days? The days immediately after the Ascension. On Thursday, we read the tail end of Saint Luke’s Gospel – forty days after the Resurrection, Christ leads the disciples out to Bethany where he blesses them as he ascends to the right hand of the Father. The disciples go back to Jerusalem where, as Luke tells us, “they were continually in the temple blessing God.” And Luke begins his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, with the same scene – Jesus ascending and the disciples staring up in amazement – as if to say, “Well now what?”

We follow up today hot on the heels of that reading from Acts – skipping a few verses that summarize that shorter fragment in Luke’s gospel about the disciples blessing God. They, along with the Blessed Virgin and other women (who sadly go unnamed), were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”

So, in those days around the Ascension, as the apostles wondered what comes next, Peter stood up to preach about how all things had been fulfilled and about how Judas had betrayed the Lord (and here, we get a gorier, R-rated version of Judas’ death, which may be why the framers of the lectionary opted to omit a few verses). Now one apostle short of a dozen, the remaining eleven decide to cast lots and elect a new apostle, a man named Matthias, bringing their number back up to twelve.

The Risen Lord has ascended to heaven. Now what?

Now the Church gets to work, continuing the apostolic ministry to which they have been called – bearing witness to the Risen Christ and proclaiming the Good News of repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and the coming Kingdom of God.

We, the Church today, are the successors to the apostles. Theologians have tended to discuss apostolic succession as the unbroken chain of ordination through the laying on of hands – that any pastor or deacon was ordained by a bishop who was ordained by other bishops who were ordained by other bishops in a lineage traceable all the way back to the Twelve Apostles – just as the Elven elected and called Matthias, so has every bishop, pastor, and deacon been called into ministry.

And to be sure, I think this connection is an important mark of the Church, even if it’s not essential to our ministry or always quite the historically verifiable line some would claim it to be.

But more important still is the greater sense in which all baptized Christians are heirs to the apostles – that we have all received the teaching the Apostles first received from Christ. You have been called by the Church through the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the Risen Christ and proclaim the Good News in thought, word, and deed. We are all, in this way, in apostolic succession together.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

He has ascended to the right hand of the Father! Amen!

He has not abandoned us. We are surrounded by a great cloud of apostolic witness throughout the ages, heirs to the tradition and sent out like  – Peter and Mary Magdalene Matthias and Francis and Clare and Martin and Katie and Bo and Anne.

Next week, as the Great Fifty Days draw to a close, we will celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, God’s continued presence among us, the one who enables us to be apostles, to bear witness to Christ. Amen.

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