June 21, 2013

Writing Ourselves Into the Story

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:30-31)

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. (John 21:25)

Today and tomorrow give us the last regular readings of Acts and John for the year, and quoted above are the last two verses. It’s the leave-taking of Ascension, and we’ve been waiting liturgically for the descent of Holy Spirit. “You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, granting joy to your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.” Of course the Holy Spirit is always with us, but these liturgical markers help stir up anticipation, desire and sharpened focus.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

If you keep up with this rhythm of worship, on the eve of Pentecost you surely know the thrill of singing “O Heavenly King” for the first time in fifty days. “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.”

Decorating a church
Preparing a parish for Pentecost

From then on we will say this prayer every day, several times a day, in our personal prayers and in the services of the church. It encapsulates what Saint Seraphim of Sarov described as the goal of the Christian life: to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saint Seraphim came from a family of businessmen and understood that in a business everything has to serve the ultimate aim of making money. So for Christians everything serves the aim of acquiring the Holy Spirit and through Him becoming transformed into the image of Christ, manifested in our particular life in a way no one before us or after us will ever be. Recognizable as Christ, and yet in a manner totally unique to us: what incredible value God places on each of us as individual, unrepeatable human beings!

The Book of Acts ends abruptly. We might like it to be completed with a postscript that tells us exactly how it all ended for Saint Paul. But whatever the historical reasons, the book’s conclusion is perfect theology: Saint Luke is saying that Paul’s work and the work of the Gospel continues. We are to be written in to the story for the “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Likewise, the Evangelist John sees that the story of Jesus is too big to fit into any book, or even an entire library of books. His story continues with every one of us, who now like John are called to “testify of these things” (John 21:24).

The history of Christianity is open ended, and we are part of that as-yet unwritten history. “O heavenly King…come and abide in us!”