Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

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Sermon of the Week

May 30, 2020

Pentecost, Whitsunday Year A RCL

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church Budapest, Hungary

Acts 2:1-21 ; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 ; John 20:19-23 ; Psalm 104:25-35, 37

The great fourteenth-century Italian artist known simply as Duccio is sometimes considered by art historians to be the last of the great medieval painters; or alternatively, as the first artist of the Renaissance, or modern, era. We see a bit of both worlds in this detail on your screen (see below) from his Siena altarpiece of 1308, depicting the Communion of Saints gathering somewhere in the great halls of heaven and awaiting, one supposes, the Last Judgment of Christ. Medieval elements remain in the painting’s somewhat stylized and rigid approach to composition, which still gives the work a feeling of the otherworldly or ethereal.

But for perhaps the first time in the history of western painting, we also see that these figures are real people. They are not stock figures or somehow symbolic representations of virtue or vice. They have their own minds. They have a hint of personality. They look off in different directions. One or two very nearly -- and eerily -- look out at us, as if to say I am one of you, too. Some are clearly men; others, women. One is a bishop, while others are arguably lay people. While they remain the Communion of Saints, they are also individuals. They could be us. Or, I suppose, we could have been them.

I do not know why exactly, but I think of this ancient and beautiful painting every time I look at a ZOOM gallery shot of our Sunday morning

congregation here at Saint Margaret’s; that is, a shot which shows all of us in rows of postage- stamp-size video snapshots. This morning is no exception. Well, okay: The medieval otherworldliness and gold filigree is very nearly missing on ZOOM, I suppose; although as I look out at you I do believe I see a few faint halos here and there. But Duccio could also look at us gathered today for worship and instantly recognise us as his people, too. He would see in us the Communion of Saints.

He would see in us the Church.

For, in some real sense the Church, no matter how you paint it or represent it in electronic particles on a tiny monitor screen, is forever of this world – forever individual and modern – yet at the same time timeless and an integral part of the celestial body of saints. As we gather with Duccio’s people this

morning, we also come together on this Pentecost Sunday with the disciples assembled centuries ago in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit still comes upon us, as it did upon them. As one theologian explains it, in the Incarnation “Christ is clothed with our flesh;” and at Pentecost we are “invested with his Spirit.”

There might not be Parthians, Medes, and Elamites among our numbers today, although you never know what genetic DNA ancestry testing might turn up. But we are nevertheless people of many cultures and languages – perhaps particularly here in Central Europe and beyond. Brits, Canadians, Hungarians, Americans, Kenyans, Ghanaians, among others. But we all also understand, each of us in our own way, the one important truth of the Gospel message: That everyone, as Peter declares in our reading today; that everyone who “calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

“There is power in love,” writes one Christian sage. There is power in love. “Do not underestimate it,” he urges. And, it is the power of God’s love by which we are saved in “the name of the Lord.” It is the power of God’s love with which we are invested at Pentecost.
The challenge of the Church in every age is not to harness the power of God’s love; but rather to unleash it. To make it free. To set it in motion. To make of it the movement of the Spirit. The Church after all is still to be found in the spiritual “rush of a violent wind,” as heard at that first Pentecost. The Church is still experienced in “tongues, as of fire” among us still today right here in our ZOOM chapel. That is the power of God’s love. We dare not underestimate its reach and force.

Never has our old world been in greater need of the power of love -- of God’s love -- than it is today, as the people of the world, and the Communion of Saints, confront the power of nature manifested in a virus too small to see except with the very strongest of microscopes. And, as we come to terms with the power of hatred and racism around the world displayed in acts of injustice, destruction, and violence.

But as has also been said, “

There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.”

This is what we as Church are called to be and to do: Love, pure and simple; made manifest in

our day as it was centuries ago at the first Pentecost and later in Duccio’s day and as it surely

shall be made manifest for centuries to come and forever. The world and its ills can only ever

be healed if we come forward as healers. Only we can bring peace and justice to lands and

peoples beset by inequality and corruption. Only we can be Church.

I have gotten a few phone calls and email and Facebook messages over the past two months

or so of quarantine asking essentially if our church is still closed. I have been polite in

response, of course, and have explained the situation and invited the caller or correspondent

to join us on ZOOM and become part of our gallery of saints. Well, I did not put it exactly like

that, but you get the idea.

But what I really wanted to tell them and the world is that the Church never closes. We are a

twenty-four/seven operation; a non-stop shop offering life’s essentials; salvation and the

power of God’s love. So, my friends, there should be no locks on the doors of our hearts, as

there were on the doors of the house where the disciples met that first Pentecost for fear of

what others might think or do. The Church never closes any more than the love of God

somehow shuts down and dims the lights at the close of God’s busy business day. The Power

of God’s love in our hearts and minds knows no bounds; knows no time or space.

The Church is here to stay.

Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

May 23, 2020

Seventh Sunday of Easter Year A RCL

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

The earliest extant depiction of the Ascension of our Lord in art dates to the beginning of the early 400s and shows Jesus scurrying up a mountainside helped along into heaven by the disembodied Hand of God stretched out toward him from a cloud above.  The disciples are more or less in disarray – all too often their fall-back position, it seems -- scattered along Jesus’ path as he rushes by, seemingly in a hurry to get home to heaven after his sojourn upon the earth.  The iconography of the Ascension remained more or less the same as this for hundreds of years.  In fact, there is an uncannily similar such surviving depiction of the Ascension from around the year 850, again with the Hand of God reaching out to Jesus from a cloud and pulling him up into heaven.

 

By the late Middle Ages, however, the artistic portrayal of Christ’s Ascension had changed considerably.  No longer did you see the Hand of God extended out to help our Lord up and over into the heavenly realm.  Instead, all you now saw of the ascending Jesus was his feet dangling from the clouds and disappearing into the top of the picture frame, as you see on the screen in front of you.  You might almost expect one of the disciples to reach out and pull him back down to earth.  Some depictions also add his footprints, by the way, sculpted or moulded upon the ground below.

 

These various images of the Ascension -- from the Hand of God reaching down from heaven, to the Feet of Jesus leaving this earth, to his footprints left upon this worldly realm -- seem to me an apt if perhaps somewhat mixed metaphor for the meaning of the Ascension itself.  This is after all the singular event in the life of our Lord which finds him suspended between this world of flesh and blood of which he had become a part and the dominion of spirit and the divine which is also his to claim, between in other words time and eternity.

 

And, while in some sense, the Ascension was surely an event of history – something which occurred in the past at the end of our Lord’s life – it is also something with us still today in the present.  That Hand of God after all is still extended from above, reaching out to each of us, sustaining us too on our journey home.  And, the footprints of Christ are still everywhere to be seen, if you just look with the eyes of faith.  As Saint Augustine explains, “Christ did not leave heaven when he came down to us on earth; nor did he abandon us when he returned to heaven;” although, I might add, it must surely have felt like an abandonment to the disciples.  Maybe to some of us as well.

 

The Ascension is after all from our earthly perspective in some sense a story of departure and leave-taking.  And, the departure of one who is beloved must always bring with it feelings of longing and sometimes even desertion.  It must have felt to the disciples as if Jesus were wiping his feet clean of the dust of this earth, packing his mystical bags, and taking the Kingdom with him, leaving them – and us -- bereft of his presence and promise.  Could he not have stayed a bit longer…?  

 

Heaven, as they say, can wait.    

 

Yet the heaven to which our Lord returns is not some place over the rainbow, beyond the planets and stars.  It is not another universe or dimension of physical reality at all.   It is neither up nor down.  Yet, heaven is nevertheless a place at the very centre of our spiritual geography.  All human compasses point to it.   As one contemporary theologian has explained it, this Jesus who once occupied a specific space and time has now become in the Ascension Lord of all space and time and indeed of all that is beyond space and time.  

 

If in the Incarnation Christ once came down to us and shared in our humanity, he now elevates our mortality to the realm of the immortal.  Heaven is now home – for us as it is for Jesus.  Heaven becomes at the Ascension an integral part of the Incarnation.  It now belongs to us as much as do our very hands and feet.  But it also takes our hands and feet, our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds, to elevate and lift this world of which we are a part beyond itself.

 

It may seem from our Scripture accounts of the Ascension that Jesus’ work on earth is somehow now over or complete.  He has taken early retirement and moved to a land with a nicer climate, we might be tempted to think. But that is not so.   His work is now our work.  And, in difficult and troubling times such as these, our challenge is to know and remember that we have not been left alone.    At the Ascension, our Lord’s real work on earth begins anew – begins in us.    We live the Ascension and bring close the Kingdom of Heaven when we raise up the down-cast and broken-hearted; console and care for the sick, suffering, and dying; and assure a troubled world of God’s infinite love and care.

 

See the feet of Christ ascending and know that they are your feet, too.  Seek the footprint of Christ on the ground beneath you and all around you and learn to serve the other.  And, raise your hands in prayer as the Hand of God raises you up in power and strength.  "Men of Galilee, People of God, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”   

 

On this earth, the Ascended Christ’s hands and feet must truly be our own.

 

Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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