Sermons

May 21: One By One! (Ascension A)

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20.

On the feast of the Ascension, we listen to Matthew, who brings his gospel to its conclusion. His emphasis is on the Beatitudes and how we are called to do as the Lord himself would do. As the Lord empowers us to action, we celebrate his invisible kingdom of the heart.

There are significant vulnerabilities for those who act on behalf of Christ, even Matthew notes, “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” Nonetheless, we are called to do the Lord’s work.

Let’s examine for a moment, those who suddenly find themselves – filling in, doing the unexpected, and how acts of great kindness can bring about this kingdom of the heart.

I

Acts of extraordinary kindness during the time of COVID-19 come to my mind when witnessing the tireless efforts of workers in the medical professions as well as the countless and often unseen workers. These people work day by day and give order to our separate lives. I’m thinking of the grocery clerks, the bus drivers, the mail delivers, and the list goes on and on.

In a recent CBS 60 Minutes report, correspondent Scott Pelley examined the lives of these many unseen workers, and then noted the 200 or more trailers required in New York City to preserve the dead before final burial.

In his interview with Barbara Sampson, the city’s chief Medical Examiner, she said:

“I’m a New York native, to see this happen in – again in New York City, after what we went through in 9/11, just breaks my heart. But we have our role to play, and we’re very proud of it.”

Pelley asked: How do you bring dignity to so many dead?”

“One by one,” Sampson answered. “You treat every person as an individual. Everybody who works here at OCME realizes it could be their mom or dad that is the next person who comes in, and you learn that working here. But we are going to do our best to serve every single family, and to the best, we are able until we are not able to do that. But we are going to try.” 

Such are the moments at a field hospital, the ER, or MASH Unit when a critically ill patient arrives at the hospital door and is attended by a first-year resident physician or recently graduated nurse.

For doctors or nurses, those called hospitalists, ready or not, they are on the front lines in patient care. That’s when we’re listening to the inner voice that speaks of the gospel, compelling us with a particular urgency to do as the Lord would do.

Indeed, we have a role to play, according to Barbara Sampson. To borrow a convention of the theater, at times, we resemble the understudy, who, on a moment’s notice, fills in when the lead actor cancels due to an unexpected illness or other grave cause.

II

Here’s a touching example that makes the point.

Several years ago, I read a short piece by Glenn Close, the stage and film actress whose career spans over forty years. Close’s article details her early life as an understudy. She has the most Academy Award nominations (7), including for Best Actress, never having won. Where and when was Glenn Close discovered?

Close writes that in the early 1970’s she was hired by a New York repertory company, playing minor roles, working as an understudy on a Thomas Congreve 17th restoration comedy entitled “Love for Love.”

The play starred an older and well-regarded British actress, Mary Ure, who was once the “toast of the London stage.” During the out of town previews, Hal Prince, the production’s director, realized there were too many disagreements with his lead actress, and Miss Ure could not remember her lines.

After a matinee, Hal Prince fired Mary Ure, replacing her with the understudy, Glenn Close.

Before the evening performance, as Close was being fitted for her costume, in what had been Ure’s dressing room, Close received a note. It was from Miss Ure.

The note read: “It is a tradition in the English theatre for one leading lady to welcome the next leading lady into her dressing room. I learned this when I was very young and making my debut at the Haymarket. I was surprised to find a letter from Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who had just closed after a long run. I salute you and welcome you. Be brave and strong. Mary Ure.”

To this day, Glenn Close continues this kind gesture. She leaves a letter of welcome and encouragement to those lucky enough to make it to the stage in a leading role.

What does this have to do with Jesus Christ and his people, now set to take the world stage?

Simply, we need welcome and encouragement. Talents that you have – those gifts of yours that can be devoted to bringing faith, hope, and love into a world that awaits your service.

When you read the gospel, notice how Jesus did not encourage acts of vengeance on his enemies. Instead, he insisted on loving one another, even one’s enemies.

When you read the gospel, notice how Jesus asks for a deep and nourishing faith to inspire our mission.

When you read the gospel, notice how Jesus does not call us apprentices or understudies, but full actors and sharers in his work on behalf of the Father and the Spirit.

We are to go out into the world, baptizing in his name. In effect, Jesus says, I salute you and welcome you.

Be brave and strong! Your work is the Lord’s work!

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Here’s an uplifting video meditation from artist David Hockney, entitled: “The World is Beautiful.”

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