#AccessPoint is the reflection for May 15, 2015, the 7th Sunday of Easter. What if you had access to heaven in a tangible way? Well, you do and this is how. Find out in “Access Point”, the podcast for this week, the 7th Sunday of Easter. Available on itunes and android. #MSAWordfortheDay #MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #DivineIntimacy #GodMan #WisdomofHeaven #Eucharist #Baptism #Altar
For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 5/17/2015 The 7th Sunday of Easter.
Please pause this audio and read John 17:6-19.
What if you had access to heaven in a tangible way? What if you could feel heaven with your hands and taste heaven on your lips? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, you do, if you believe it.
An iconostasis is a wall of icons that is between where the people stand and where the altar is in either an Easter Rite Catholic or an Orthodox Christian Church. I have a picture of an iconostasis at MySpiritualAdvisor.com above this reflection for you to see. Additionally, there is a link to a great article that explains what I am about to tell you in more depth, if you click on that pic at MySpiritualAdvisor.com. The article at the website “A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons” tells how it appears that the wall is a barrier between heaven and earth. Indeed, the people sit out in the church and the priest enters behind the iconostasis, the icon wall. That is, if we are thinking from the point of scarcity, i.e., what we cannot do.
The point of the iconostasis is not to exclude. In fact, it makes a bold declaration: at this location, heaven and earth meet. Architecture in all churches is supposed to say that there is a point where earth stops and heaven begins. It is at that point where the altar sits in a church. What is even more important for the understanding of this passage today is that in liturgical studies, that is the study of worship, it is commonly understood that the altar in any church, when it is not being used for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Communion, the Eucharist, represents Jesus Christ.
The reason I bring this up for this passage from the Gospel of John today is because today, the Sunday after Jesus bodily ascended up to heaven, is because I think we lose site of who Jesus Christ is and what exactly he means for us as human beings. This passage from John says some incredible things: first, that Jesus and the Father are one. This means that any prayer that we give to Jesus, it is given to the Father in heaven. During Holy Week and during Easter, I have been talking about how Jesus is human and knows what it is like for us to live our lives. Here in this passage, we affirm that at the same time, Jesus is also God, fully and completely. Earlier in John, in 10:30, Jesus says it boldly, “I and the Father are one.”
The one who knows our life, our hurts, our pain, our suffering, our disappointment, our journies, our joys, our gladness, our excitement, our fulfillment, he is the same one who is God. This should be where your mind explodes. This is where you have to hold two contradictory thoughts at once: Jesus is human and knows what it is like to be us, and he is God and is all that the Father is. Wow.
The second thing that we should get from this passage for today is that Jesus asks the Father on our behalf. The one who is the God-man advocates for us. As God and as human, Jesus Christ advocates for us. We say in the Creed, “he intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.” When we say, “God is on your side,” in Jesus we really mean it, tangibly. The ascension into heaven means there is a human being in heaven at the right hand of the Father who is talking to God for you. In fact, it is God asking God to love you, something for which he created you.
The third thing I want you to notice about this passage is that Jesus wants us to be one with him and, thus, one with the Father. He is the Access Point. Last week, I talked about how Jesus wanted us to be in a deep and intimate relationship with him. We can tell him anything. We can just sit with him and be loved. Here in this passage from John, we see that Jesus makes heaven deeply and intimately accessible. It is in Jesus that heaven and earth are connected. This is why an altar in a church is a very sacred and important place for us. This is why the iconostasis is not a barrier, but an access point.
Although God is accessible through prayer anywhere, I will not deny it, there is a special intensity of presence in a church. This is because the space of a Church is a dedicated space where God promises to be at his altar. The altar represents Christ to us and his presence. It is the altar where we can direct our prayers. It is the altar where we can go in a time of pain and desperation. It is the altar where we know we can access Jesus Christ who is sitting at the right hand of the Father praying for us as our chief advocate.
The founder of the Methodist movement, the Anglican priest, John Wesley, refers to the sacraments as “means of grace”. John Wesley is most concerned with a divine life lived out, applied to the everyday. It is called “practical divinity.” “Means of grace” are the “ordinary means” through which we receive the grace of God. Wesley maintained that these means of grace, the sacraments, are sure and certain. These are the ways that we can consistently know that God’s grace is available to us. The chief means of grace is the Eucharist. It is the most certain connection between God and us because in the Eucharist, the presence of Jesus Christ enters into our bodies spiritually through a physical form.
The iconostasis is visual representation that heaven and earth meet where the altar sits. The altar represents Jesus Christ who is both God and human. Jesus Christ is the link between heaven and earth. When we are baptized we are grafted into Jesus Christ and made one with him. So, when we are baptized we fulfill the prayer from John 17:11, that we may be one with Jesus and thus one with the Father. Baptism into Jesus gives us a deeper entry into heaven, because we become one with God. The Eucharist gives us sustenance from heaven because it is the God-man coming into us, making himself present within us. The Access Point for Baptism is Jesus. The Access Point for the Eucharist is Jesus. The Access Point beyond the iconostasis is the altar, which is Jesus.
Don’t you have times in your life when you think, “What am I going to do?” Don’t you have moments when you wish that the store house of wisdom in the heavens was yours? Don’t you wish you had access to this wisdom in the most desperate of times and the best of times? Well you do. Your access is tangible. It can be felt with your hands and tasted on your lips. It is the soothing feeling of water that satiates your thirst and cools down your body on a hot day. This prayer from the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17 lays out a truth of theology that is a truth for living life practically: Life comes from the Father, through the Son, and is given to us in the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist and Baptism chiefly, but also through prayers sent toward the altar which are raised into heaven. We need only believe it and live it.
If you ever wanted to know why organized religion and a church building are important, today is the passage for you. The access to God is regularly and consistently available to you through the Eucharist, Baptism and the Altar. These are found in the Church. This great gift which answers Jesus’ prayer is what we have to offer the world. More than guitars, chanting, incense, power point presented sermons, coffee and pastors in skinny jeans, or priests in cassocks and surplices; more than anything else, we offer the Access Point to heaven. His name is Jesus. His prayer is answered through Baptism, Eucharist and the Altar. What more is there really? Amen.
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