Thursday, May 20, 2004

Tarrying in Jerusalem

And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:49)

In all probability, most of us, when we hear this reading for the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, think of this solely as an event in time and space; that is, something which unquestionably happened, but "there and then," and not "here and now." Our Lord – crucified, dead, buried, and risen from the dead – having spent the last forty days with His disciples, appearing to as many as 500 people, prepares to return to heaven, where He will, in the fullness of both His divinity and the humanity which He shares with us, be seated at the right hand of God, His Father. He instructs His disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. We have the advantage of knowing what they do not – the place and time when the promise that our Lord will send a Comforter, Who will lead us into all truth, will be fulfilled.

But in addition to the “there and then” aspects of this event, I believe that there is something more for us than just a recalling of history. There is a “here and now” element, an element of blessing for us today. As disciples of the Lord, we, too, are to tarry in Jerusalem, that we, also, may be filled with power from on high.

We should not be looking for another day of Pentecost (except for the celebration of the Feast on the church calendar!); for, as we sing at the end of most Divine Liturgies, “We have seen the true Light; we have received the Heavenly Spirit…” In our baptism, we have “put on” Christ – that is, we have been buried with Him in the descent into the waters of the font, and raised with Him in His deathless life. Then, in our chrismation, we are anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live this new life. The challenge for each of us, in the days that God provides for us thereafter, is to “grow into” this life, to fulfill this life, to bring into reality the great potential established in us at baptism and chrismation. On our own, we lack the power to accomplish this task; and so we must be regular recipients of God’s grace – power from on high.

As we see the account of our Lord’s ascension as “there and then” in history, so, too, do we miss a dimension of the reality of the city in which we are to tarry. Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, in the land of Israel – right? There’s no denying that this is true. However, if we think of things beyond time and space, there is more to consider. “Jerusalem” can be translated, “the foundation of peace.” Jerusalem became the “holy city” when God’s Anointed, the holy Prophet King David, brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city he made his capital. It was here that King Solomon built a house for the Lord, the Temple on Mount Zion. The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of worship at the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry. And the disciples tarried in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost when the Church, the Body of Christ, was established – the new Jerusalem.

Do you see it? “The foundation of peace” is not a city, but our Lord Jesus Christ. The center of worship is not a building, but our Lord Jesus Christ. The Temple, destroyed and raised once more in three days, was not the structure on the hillside, but His Body – and His Body is the Church. And it is in the Church that we receive the Holy Mysteries, the means whereby we have assurance of receiving God’s grace, and especially in the Mystery of His holy Body and Blood.

And so we tarry in the Church, and in the life we have in Christ, and in the way of that life we learn from “holy Mother Church” – a life of prayer, and fasting, of giving alms, and struggling to overcome our weaknesses and the ways of wickedness we have learned, seeking instead the virtues that oppose our passions. We tarry in the new Jerusalem, to be filled with power from on high; and then, as the first disciples went forth to preach the good news of our salvation, we are to go forth to proclaim that Christ is risen, and we have the hope of the forgiveness of our sins, and the transformation of our being. So tarry ye, beloved, in Jerusalem, and be filled with power from on high, so that we can then go in peace to love and serve the Lord, to the glory of His Name, and the salvation of our souls.