Look to the glory! Look to the glory! Words that the brothers will know very well, words often on the lips of our founder Richard Meux Benson – who loved this day – the Ascension – a day so central to his life and spirituality: Christ, risen and glorified, reigning in heaven, and through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
I was sitting in the chapel yesterday afternoon, reflecting on the readings for today, and those words came to me: “Look to the glory” – and I looked – and there, high above the altar, I gazed at the crucified Lord. The cross, which for St. John is the glory: the place where God’s glory was manifested, most perfectly revealed, as self-giving love. The cross which reconciles heaven and earth, reconciles God and humankind. The cross which opens for us the gate of glory. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)
Richard Meux Benson saw and lived that in an extraordinary way. People were struck by him as a man who spoke of God out of direct experience. When he was a very old man, very ill and blind, the monastery infirmarian, Fr. Strong, would enter his cell and find him on his knees praying intensely. Fr. Strong wrote, “He was there – in the heavenly places, hidden with Christ in God. He was there.”
He was blind, yet he was there and he saw. The Letter to the Ephesians, which we’ve just read, longs for us all to see. In chapter one, verse 17, we read, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
Some of you here today are preparing to be ordained as deacons. You are, rather wonderfully, I think, offering your lives to be used in God’s service, and for God’s people. You will be ministering in a world where there is much confusion, brokenness, injustice and despair. In my own experience of Christian ministry, I believe at the deepest level, that people are longing for hope. As our Rule puts it, “People are hungry for good news that life is full of meaning in union with God.”
We are called to be purveyors of hope: not a shallow optimism, but true Christian hope which is expressed not just in words, but by a life lived in deep communion with the one who is the source of hope. The Letter to the Ephesians says, “As you come to know him, may the eyes of your heart be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” (1:17)
It is through prayer that we come to know him, through prayer that we come to know more profoundly in our hearts what is the hope to which we have been called. In prayer, as our Collect puts it, we too ascend in heart and mind, and with him continually dwell.
So for all of us today, whether we be lay, ordained, or preparing to be ordained, for all of us, this Ascension Day is a wonderful celebration of hope. And it is a day of encouragement. A day to lift up our hearts, to rejoice – the Lord is King.
And maybe an occasion to pledge that in the days ahead we will endeavor to be purveyors of hope – that we will so live our lives and so pray our lives, that others will know what is the hope to which we have been called. That however difficult or daunting our journey may be, we will continually lift up our eyes, and look to the glory.
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