This past week, we said farewell to the 40 day celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, and celebrated His glorious Ascension into Heaven! We read in the Gospel this past Thursday how after our Lord ascended into Heaven, the Disciples upon hearing that the Holy Spirit would soon be descending upon them, went into Jerusalem with great joy! And this is one of the tenors of the hymns that were sung at Vespers and the Liturgy: A feeling of tremendous Joy at seeing our own flesh ascending into the heavens, and watching as the angel that had been guarding the gates of paradise departed...opening to us the door back to our rightful home in the kingdom!
While the feeling of joy and relief is certainly there, we also feel a second emotion that grips us during the feast. We sang together on Wednesday night:
“Having ascended to heaven from where You had descended, do not leave us orphans, O Lord! May Your Holy Spirit come, bringing peaceto the world! Show the sons of men the worksof Yourpower, O Lord Who lovemankind!”
No doubt the disciples, a few days after witnessing our Lord ascend to the heavens, had these same feelings creep up in their hearts while they were waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Their hearts cried out with those same words: “Do not leave us as Orphans, O Lord!”
I went for a walk this week in our neighborhood while Lucy rode her bike next to me. There are several hills on the route that I take, and Lucy (who is still learning how to ride) loved it when we came to the top of a hill, so that she could recklessly speed down it to feel the wind in her hair. Thank God for knee pads and a helmet, because despite my warnings, on more than one occasion, she would pick up too much speed, hit a Michigan pothole, and crash her bike to the ground. And like any good father would, I would catch up to her, pick her up off of the ground, clean her up, and console her until she was calm enough to get back on the bike and keep riding.
Isn’t this a wonderful picture of our own lives? No matter how old and wise we all think we are, we all still act very much like disobedient children. When we allow life to get too fast, despite the warnings of our Father, we fall and scrape up our knees and our chins. But over the last 6 months, we have been witnessing first hand just what kind of relationship we have with God! On December 25th, our Lord literally bent down from the heavens to grab his children who had fallen far from the reason that they were created. At Theophany, we watched as the same Lord washed off of our cuts and bruises in the waters of Holy Baptism, making us all shine whiter than snow! A little over 40 days ago, we watched and celebrated, as our Lord lifted us up off the ground through His Resurrection! And now, we witness that same Lord at His Ascension, joyously lifting us up in His arms to be comforted…showing us the path back home.
St. Paul reminds us all, that “We are all children of God”. We call Him “Abba”…and we say in the Liturgy: “Our Father”. No matter how difficult life gets, regardless of how many times we fall and scrape our knees, and no matter how many times we try to lock our-selves up in our rooms, protesting and dis-regarding the love of our Father: He remains ready to love us and return us to our former glory.
To quote the dying words of St. John Chrysostom: “Glory to God for all things!”
We have the added blessing today of welcoming a new sister to this family of God, in the newly baptized handmaiden of God Alexandra. Although she is perhaps one of the youngest of our family, she stands in front of us today as a shining example of what it means to be a Christian. You will notice how her baptismal garment (that same garment that you and I are wrapped in) is the brightest of all of us today. She has not yet learned how quickly life can pull her in many different directions. She has not yet fallen off of the path and scraped her knees. The purity in her is untainted with the darkness of life…and her innocence is beyond compare.
When we approach the chalice, it is Alexandra who will lead us, and through that purity, brightness, and simplicity, she will remind us today of what it means to be a perfect Child of God.
We need to ask ourselves today, having witnessed what we are about to witness at the chalice, how will we ever be able to repay such a beautiful gift from our newest sister in Christ?
There is not much we can do now, but there will be a time in the not too distant future where Alexandra will lose some of that beautiful innocence. As the years go by, there will be a moment when she stumbles to the ground and begins to cry out for help…and it is in those moments that we can repay our debt to her.
We are all responsible for each other…and most especially, for our youngest siblings, in showing them how to maintain a close relationship with our Father. When they weep and wail, we pick them up as our Father did us, and show them the icons of their departed relatives on the walls.
When they become pre-occupied in the services, we show them how to ring bells, or sing in the choir, or hold a candle….teaching them how to offer perfect praise through our own examples.
When they lash out in the quietest and most solemn parts of the service, we show them what it means to be Christians by offering to help calm them down, instead of driving them out of the Lord’s house to be “hushed”.
Our greatest gift that we can give to our children, is to show them what Christian beauty is all about. And if for some reason we have forgotten what that looks like…Alexandra is your reminder. We are all witnesses today of beauty that is beyond compare, and it is our job to maintain that beauty not only in Alexandra’s life…but in our lives as well.
My dearest Alexandra. You have been born into a world that has been darkened by the pride of your new brothers and sisters, and on this day of your illumination, we ask for your help and your prayers. By your example, show us the path that we have covered up by our many faults…leading us back to our Father Who is waiting with open arms.
We love you…we promise to care for you…and we ask for your prayers for your newest brothers and sisters in Christ…Amen