The sermons, articles, and theological ramblings of a 38-year-old Anglo-Catholic Episcopal priest in Washington County, Maryland.

“The Continuing Easter Story”

The following homily was preached on May 21, 2023, being the Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after Ascension Day, at the 9:00am Rite II Eucharist at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (Lappans Road), Boonsboro, Maryland.

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

Collect of the Day: “O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Featured Image: “The Ascension” by Benjamin West (1738-1820)

“As they were looking on, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”—Acts 1:9

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

            As Maria Rainer once sang to the von Trapp children, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Taking that advice, on this Seventh Sunday of Easter, let’s go back to the very first Easter Day, to Mary Magdalene outside Christ’s tomb. She is weeping because Christ’s Body is missing and thinks it has been stolen. But Jesus has risen from the grave and the familiar sound of His voice turns Mary’s sadness into great joy, causing her to see Him in His resurrected state. Mary reaches out to hold Jesus, but He tells her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus then instructs Mary to “go to my brethren and [tell] them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17).

            There is a connection between this Easter Day scene and what we have heard today in Acts. It can be seen through Mary’s reaction to the risen Christ. Her wanting to hold Jesus is a natural response arising from the great love she has for Him. He was taken from her once before; Mary does not want to lose Jesus again. Her act is not ill-intended, but Mary seeks to keep hold of Jesus within the boundaries of this world.  

            We can surely see ourselves in Mary’s desire to physically keep hold of Jesus. If you’re like me, then you do not like too much change. We are comfortable with the familiar. But it was never Jesus’ plan to physically stay in this world. What Mary had to realize then and we must do now is that for our relationship with Jesus to be what we desire it to be, He could not physically remain in this world. There had to be a change. That is why He told Mary not to hold Him. It is why we heard Jesus last week say, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). And it is why we today see from Acts Jesus “lifted up,” a cloud taking Him out of the disciples’ sight.

            Jesus has ascended to God’s right hand and will send down the Holy Spirit to be a comforting presence individually within us and among us all. His physical Body resides in Heaven away from the restrictions of this transitory world. And it is in Heaven—God’s perfect Kingdom which has no end—where Jesus is preparing a place for all who truly love Him. The Ascension of Jesus is an event that has happened, according to Him, for all our advantage (cf. John 16:7).  

            This is why the Church had us hear portions of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” during the last weeks of Eastertide. By hearing these words now in a resurrected reality, we hear Christ explain how His physical departure is actually good for us. It is good by how it allows all people everywhere the chance to know Jesus. In Matthew 28, before Jesus’ ascension, He commissions the disciples to “go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). As the physical Jesus ascends into Heaven, the Holy Spirit will soon descend upon Christ’s followers, going in and from all directions, bringing Christ’s spiritual presence to all in this world seeking after His righteousness. By His ascension, Jesus bestows upon us the grace to be His physical Body on Earth through which He spiritually presents Himself having died, risen, and coming again.

            So, we must be mindful not to think of Christ’s ascension as the end of the Easter story. Rather, it is its continuation. The Easter story continues because Jesus is alive and still saves. He still saves through the self-sacrificing love He displayed on the cross, drawing all people to Himself. This love by which He saves is the graceful way of God that has been shown, proven true, and reinforced time and again throughout all history. The proof for Easter’s continuing impact comes from the witnessing lives of those past and present throughout the world who have toiled, fought, lived, and died for the spread of Christ’s Gospel. Because of their faith in Christ risen and ascended, which came down to them through the years going all the way back to the Apostles who saw Christ risen and ascended, the Gospel message has come down to us. The Holy Spirit, which brings Jesus’ spiritual presence to us, gives cause for us to “rejoice and be glad when [Jesus’] glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

            We, the people of St. Mark’s (Lappans Road), can see this through the Church’s liturgy week after week. First, there is the Liturgy of the Word in which we hear and are taught God’s Word, embodied in the Incarnate Jesus, receiving comfort, forgiveness, and remission of sin from it. Next, through the Liturgy of the Table, we remember Christ crucified, died, and risen through His command to remember and partake of Him in consecrated Bread and Wine. From these proceedings we are like Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Day, seeing and beholding Christ, being fed by Him through Word and Sacrament. But as Jesus told Mary, “Do not hold me,” we in likewise manner are sent out to proclaim what she first did to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18). From the Church’s liturgy we experience the earthly life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, then, by the Holy Spirit’s power, are sent into the world to love and serve Him. Luke’s account of the Ascension notes how Jesus physically went away from the disciples lifting His hands blessing them. Jesus’ blessing is the empowering force to go out and spread the Good News.

            I would like to end with a story, one that I think reflects Eastertide and Christ’s stated purpose for His ascension. My maternal grandmother died in October 2013. She along with my mother raised me up in the Christian faith and “Granny’s” death was the first significant death I had experienced in my life. With my family asking me to officiate and preach her funeral—my first since being ordained the previous year—I was not able to be a grieving grandson like I should have been. This point would later come back to negatively affect me.

            February 11, 2014 would have been Granny’s eighty-second birthday. As this time was approaching, the grief that I did not express months before was beginning to do so and not in a good way. The grief was becoming too much in that I was getting easily annoyed and snippy. Recognizing what was happening, I think two days before Granny’s birthday, I asked my then rector if I could take the rest of the day off to get a handle on my emotions, a request he granted. I remember going home and taking a nap on my living room couch. During that nap, I had a dream in which I was sleeping on the living room couch during which I woke up, looked at the top of the stairs, and saw Granny. She looked the exact same way I remembered her looking when I was growing up. She then came down the stairs with a fullness of vigor in her legs, no longer bedridden like she was in her later years. Granny walked right up to me and said, “How are you, Brandt?” She remembered who I was; the dementia she had suffered was gone. “I’m OK, Granny? How are you?” “I’m doing just fine, baby,” she replied, having the biggest smile across her face. I woke up from my nap rejoicing in what I had experienced. Granny witnessed to me how Christ having died and risen and coming again is all true.

            Jesus says, “When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). Peter says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Pet. 5:10). And as the Psalmist proclaims, “God gives the desolate a home to dwell in” (Ps. 68:6). This is why the resurrected Jesus ascends to God’s right hand in Heaven. It is how all of us, through Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, rise from spiritual death and ascend to a new life. Jesus has ascended into Heaven! Let us all adore our risen and ascended Savior and Lord.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.                             

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The Rev. Brandt Montgomery is the Chaplain of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland, having previously served at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana as Chaplain of Ascension Episcopal School from 2014-2017, then as Associate Rector and All-School Chaplain from 2017-2019. From 2012-2014, Fr. Montgomery was the Curate at Canterbury Episcopal Chapel and Student Center at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, his first parochial appointment following his ordination by the Bishop of Alabama.

Fr. Montgomery received a Bachelor of Arts in Music, specializing in Trumpet Performance, from the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama in 2007. He received the Master of Divinity (cum laude) in 2012 from The General Theological Seminary in New York City, for which he wrote the thesis “Time’s Prisoner: The Right Reverend Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter and the Civil Rights Movement in the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.” In 2021, Fr. Montgomery received the Doctor of Ministry degree from the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, his thesis titled “The Development of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Saint James School of Maryland.”

Fr. Montgomery’s scholarly interests lie in the areas of American religious history, Episcopal Church history, the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism, the Civil Rights Movement, and practical theology.


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