We need comfort. We certainly do today. We need comforting. Trauma everywhere, every day. From Buffalo to Uvalde, from Detroit to Houston, from San Bernadino to Newton Ct. We mourn lives lost, and we mourn that there are so many who are mourning today. Let us pray: O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations our all our hearts give wings to the faith in you which lies so deep within each of us here this morning, O God, my Strength, my Redeemer, and my Comforter. Amen.
I. The appointed text for Ascension Sunday is from the conclusion of Luke’s gospel–
Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
This report is a way of saying Jesus was not just a part of life, but ALL of life. Jesus’ material image had to be erased so that he could be seen in everything everywhere. The cosmic Christ is all in all. He arose from the dead to rise from the Earth into heaven, the heavens, the cosmos. Jesus’ ascension does not mean divinity deserted us on Earth. On the contrary, it says that God and nature are one. Earth is God’s body, and only an infinitesimal part of it.
This insight energized Christian thinkers from Hildegard of Bingen to Meister Eckhart to Thomas Merton. This insight energized Jewish philosophy from Spinoza to Martin Buber. This insight energized the scientists of the Muslim efflorescence of Umayyad Spain in 14th and 15th century Spain.
II. We need comfort. We certainly do. We need comforting. On Memorial Day we memorialize the war dead, but originally only the Union dead, then later on the United States casualties of foreign wars. But we should memorialize all the war dead because they are the victims of our hubris. We seem never to have learned the lesson that God is all in all, and humanity is a very small part of it. Somehow humanity got lost in our own importance. We mistakenly concluded that we were the apex of the natural ladder, the climax of Creation, the peak of evolution, the center of the cosmos. Even today, after the Copernican revolution, we behave as if the sun revolves around man. Because, at some point, we concluded that Nature was our plaything, our servant, an engine for our wealth.
That occurred with the rise of science–no, not until the rise of “scientism.” That is the belief that all nature’s secrets could be discovered and exploited, to master our fate. But scientism couldn't conquer death. It tried and instead became an engine of death–the atomic bomb. Hiroshima changed our relation to Nature permanently and irrevocably. At Hiroshima a bomb was dropped so powerful it killed 140,000 by splitting an atom. Three thousand people died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center–140,000 in one minute on August 6, 1945, at Hiroshima. The horrific antithesis of comfort, splitting the atom changed our relationship to nature forever, and we are paying for it now with weapons of mass destruction and the commercial degradation of the environment. Today’s climate crisis resulted from a war against the Earth that dates from the dropping of the atomic bomb. In sum, scientism is Christ denied.
III. We need comfort. We certainly do. We need comforting. On this last Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday when Christ withdraws from the periphery of the world into the invisible center, we can find comfort in the truth that God is all in all. There is comfort in Nature. I mean comfort, not the comforts of nature, not the comforts of sunsets or the fantasies of our screensavers. Inside nature, properly understood, nestles comfort. I mean the nature of which, at a molecular level, we are a part. Nature is not outside of us, but inside, even unto the molecular insides of us.
We seldom feel nature that deeply. Oh, we get down to nature at the level of our aches and pains, but that’s nothing, that’s not it, not what I mean. But it’s close. Pain is cellular dysfunction, so it’s a partial clue. However, it takes real imagination to get where I want you to go, to get to the comfort of nature.
Here’s an exercise that might help: drink a glass of water, slowly, all of it, as I am presently doing, and imagine while you’re drinking where it’s headed, where it goes, imagine how far it goes on its way, how deep into your thirst, when it reaches tissue and marrow and the atomic makeup of the cell. It brings health, vitality–and comfort–to us. So fragile and tender is life. You should realize that you can’t get any closer to Nature, or God, than you already are.
Besides the “sacrament” of drinking water I have just demonstrated, there are other ways, like, read more Emerson, more Dickinson, more Whitman, more Mary Oliver, more Annie Dillard. Breathe with the yogis. Bathe in the hot springs. Savor the food you eat. Move your body. Every day we can receive the comfort of nature.
Nature is the bosom of God. Our hope lies not in conquering nature but in following it. The body heals itself, if treated well–if we allow the body to find its homeostasis. Way back in the 1970s, Norman Cousins showed us the way with laughter and spirit. The title alone of one book confirms our celebration today–The Biology of Hope and the hope of biology lie inside us.
Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? –William Blake, 1794