Find the lectionary readings for this week here.
Ascension Sunday is the final Sunday of the easter season. The resurrected Christ once again becomes the disappearing Christ, just like he’s been doing that all along – if you remember, after the resurrection, we have stories about how as soon as people recognize him, he disappears, or tells them to go to others, or not to hold onto him. It’s an odd holiday to observe, right between Ascension Day on Thursday and Pentecost, which is ten days later. Furthermore, the timeline is even funky – one Gospel describes the ascension as happening on the day of the resurrection, but another text describes how it happens 40 days after the resurrection.
To me, this seems to suggest that it is a process – this transition into a small religious community living without their teacher physically present.
The angels in this story seem to echo stories of the resurrection, as well. Did you catch when the disciples were looking up at the sky, then two angels appear and ask them, “Why are you looking at the clouds?” This is a lot like what happened in the tomb, when angels asked, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
I wonder about what might have come next in what the angels said, and I imagine it could have been something like: “Why are you looking at the clouds? Why aren’t you looking at one another? Why are you still here? God isn’t in the clouds. God is with you. God is in you. God is in your neighbor. God is in every atom of this marvelous creation.”
And after the disciples have this experience, they return to an upper room where they were staying – which echoes that beautiful moment of togetherness, the Last Supper, before Jesus is betrayed – and they pray, and sing, and read scripture. And they wait. They wait.
You know that saying, “Don’t just stand there, do something?” When I was training as a chaplain, they taught us that we should invert that phrase when doing our work: “Don’t just do something… be present.” Be present to the person in the room. Be present to the pain. Be present to the interminable waiting.
And that is, of course, what the disciples and all the folks in the upper room are doing: Waiting, praying, singing… waiting. Because what comes next? Jesus said he was sending someone else to be with them, but whoever this mysterious “other” is, they aren’t there yet. But this time of waiting shouldn’t surprise us - It’s all over the story of Jesus. Think about the waiting in Advent, the whole message of John the Baptist, Holy Saturday… it’s a lot of waiting. And I think often a life of faith feels like a whole lot of waiting, like how when you’re in an airplane flying over the U.S. and you suddenly see that most of the land is farmland or forest, with vast areas of emptiness between the densely populated cities. Most of our walk in faith is also empty space, fertile ground, but no city lights.
These times of “not yet” can be deeply spiritual times, but they are times we often avoid like the plague. And I think this is probably because often the work of waiting means doing the internal work of letting go of some kind of control or illusion of control – some old way of doing things, or vision of the future. It often requires a letting go, and letting go can be so hard. I think of this especially today, the day before my son’s 16th birthday – I’ve been thinking a lot about how soon I will need to let go of one relationship to make room for a new parent-child relationship. And it’s the same with any kind of grief. I know many of us here have already had to live through the ends of many things, through different losses and deaths of loved ones where there was no choice except in how we could choose to respond.
So here is what I’d like to ask us to ponder today, on this last Sunday of Easter: what if resurrection was the surest thing in our lives? I personally believe that resurrection is pretty much the only sure thing, but it’s something we always have trouble trusting, because we are not in control of what happens in resurrection. Resurrection is always also revelation – revealing more about who God is and who we are.
What if resurrection was the surest thing in our lives? If you knew that the work of God was always about death and resurrection, and not about clinging on to one way of being in the world? How would you live differently? How would you love differently? How would we be a community of faith differently?
Next week, we’ll get to talk about the difference it made for the first followers of Jesus. For this week, we wait, and just like those early disciples, allow the waiting to do its work on us, as we look not to the clouds for God, but to one another, and the world around us. Thanks be to God!