Sunday after Ascension
May 24, 2020
Christ Church Gardiner
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer.
We heard today the story of the Ascension of Jesus told in two slightly different ways. Which isn’t all that surprising. We know other events in the Gospels, like the birth of Jesus and his resurrection, have different versions, depending on who the author is. It may be more surprising to find discrepancies in the readings we just heard from the Gospel of Luke and Acts, because they were written by the same person. This is evidence that the ancient writers had less concern than we moderns do about things like “facts.” But that does not mean they weren’t interested in truth. Truth with a capital T. Those truths that tell us who we are, how we came to be, what’s our relationship with God, and what does God expect of us.
So where do we find that kind of truth in this Ascension story? Maybe we can start with this line from Acts. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:10)
The simple answer might be—because a man was just lifted off of the ground and floated into the clouds. Even after the miracle of the resurrection, this was still something shocking.
But beyond shock and awe, I imagine the disciples were just scared. Scared to let Jesus go. Scared of what they needed to do next. Jesus may have risen to heaven in a majestic gesture, but that meant that the disciples were now alone. And even though Jesus may have been going to assume his rightful place with God, the disciples still wanted a Messiah here on Earth, one that would restore the kingdom of Israel.
But as Jesus had told them time and again, he wasn’t that kind of king. And at the Ascension, this truth is starting to sink in. Jesus had asked a lot of the disciples when he was on earth—remember several of them had literally dropped their nets, their livelihoods, and their families to follow him. Jesus knew that what he was asking now wouldn’t be any easier.
Go back to Jerusalem, he told them. The place of my crucifixion. The place where the authorities are watching and fearful of rebels like you. Wait there for the Spirit which will give you the power to do great things and to spread the message of my love and forgiveness to the entire world.
So they went. I imagine those disciples returned to Jerusalem with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, anxiety, and sadness. They were sent back to do one of those things, we humans find hardest to do.
To wait. The life of the church may have been launched at the resurrection, but there was still a lot of waiting left to do. They found themselves in an in-between time, listening for and responsive to God’s call.
Jesus commissioned those disciples to be the Church. But he couldn’t tell them what that would look like, because he didn’t know. They would have to figure that out on their own with the gift of the Holy Spirit giving them comfort and courage and the consciousness that God now dwelled with them.
It feels like we are in an “in-between” time now in the life of the church. Like the disciples, we had expected one thing, but we’re being asked to be a faith community in ways we never imagined. But if we stop and think back on the two- thousand-year history of our Christian faith, we will see that Christians have always been trying to figure out how to be faithful to the witness of Christ. How to BE THE CHURCH.
We have a choice to make right now. Like the disciples as Jesus ascended, we could find ourselves standing still, frozen and focused on what was–and our dashed hopes. But we don’t have to get stuck there. Because also like the disciples, we can listen for the angels in our midst who knock us out of our trance and demand, “Why are you just standing there? Jesus gave you a job to do. Go do it. Even if you’re not sure just what that means in this new reality.”
During this in-between time, we must wait expectantly for the voice of God to show us how to be the Church. Because we know there’s more to church than sitting in pews. When we reflect back on the example that Jesus set for us, what defines us as his followers is care for others, particularly those most vulnerable. We can start there. Which is why we aren’t ready to be back in our pews.
So, where’s the truth in the Ascension story? What does it tell us about who we are, our relationship to God, and what God expects of us?
Well, one truth is that the disciples were scared, anxious, and sad. And it’s okay to be all of those things. These are the people Jesus chose and called. Like us, they didn’t know what the future would look like. But they followed the call as best they could, and they waited expectantly for the voice of God to show them how to build the church that was needed in thattime and place.
Right now we wait expectantly for the call of God to show us how to be the church that is needed for ourtime and place. And even though we aren’t gathered, we don’t wait and listen alone. The community lives and can even thrive though our pews are empty. Trust that God is among us, no matter what. And remember that our most holy calling is tobethe church, not to goto church. Amen.