written and preached by Rev. Natalie Shiras
May 12, 2013 Acts 1:1-11
Ascension poses a particular challenge for us. Jesus is lifted up out of sight and everyone stands gazing up to heaven. This description of Jesus’ ascension by Luke in the Book of Acts has been depicted in all the great religious art, showing Jesus just above the clouds. (See the painting by Rembrandt on the cover of this morning’s bulletin for Jesus’ ascension). In these modern times it feels like his ascension from earthly ministry is the equivalent of a rocket launch, lifting up a few hundred miles above the earth. “Beamed up” as they say in Star Trek.
Where does Jesus go? This is an age old question for all of us after someone dies as it was for the disciples. My mother has shown me where she is from time to time in the nearly five years since she died in June 2008. I’m not sure where she goes. But I do know when she comes.
My mother has made many visits to me since her death. This is not explainable in scientific terms or even in material terms. And it is not like seeing a ghost. A ghost usually comes when there is something unresolved in that life and there is sometimes an attempt by the living to bring rest to that spirit. My mother was at rest, was at peace at the end of her life and in her death.
I do know that right after she died she was with all of us in the family for several days as we grieved her sudden death. I told my father, “Dad, I feel her unconditional love palpably in the house and in the trees and in the spaces between the trees.” He could feel her too. She was all around.
A few weeks later I was paddling my kayak on Laurel Lake in Lee and there she was in the sky and clouds above the lake. It was comforting. I sang out loud the Christian shape note song:
“The dead lift me up,
In brightest sky the clouds before me race.
The dead lift me up.
I see them face to face.”
I got busy after that and did not feel my mother’s presence for several months. In a quiet moment she came to me and I heard her voice and felt her presence. “I have been waiting for you to notice”, she explained. I realized what she meant. I had been so busy that I had not realized she visited me from time to time. I was sitting in my study at home and felt happy in her presence. Then she was gone.
Two months later I was sitting with a friend and there was my mother again. She came right in through the sliding screen door that was open to catch the summer breeze. I caught her presence and I told my friend Gayle that there she was. Gayle and I welcomed my mother and we kept talking and my mother stayed right with us for about an hour. I felt happy. Then she was gone and I released her presence. That is the way she comes to me from time to time.
Is she lifted up? I describe it as being all around. But I certainly am lifted up by her visits, comforted in her regard for me. I lost her in the flesh but I have gained another kind of presence.
Last June marked the fourth anniversary of her death. In the Native American tradition it is a custom to remember the life of a loved one with a ceremony. Since my mother was very active with the Native American tribes inMaineand helped pass a state law that would add Native American studies to the social studies curriculum in the public schools, I felt it would be meaningful to have a ceremony. It so happened that the whole immediate family who were together when my mother died, except my father of course who has died since, were gathered in Maine for my son Alex’ graduation celebration from law school. I suggested we have a ceremony for my mother sometime during the weekend and serve my mother’s favorite food, crabmeat salad. As everyone is enthusiastic about Maine crabmeat and were willing to go along with a little ceremony, we agreed.
At lunch I made a huge crabmeat salad for the twenty of us—my kids and my brother and his family and aunts and uncles and cousins. Some were a little skeptical and laughed, especially when, in the Native American custom, I set a place for my mother with her photo and her favorite shawl draped over the chair and a couple mementos. I served her a portion of the crabmeat salad and welcomed her to the table and then passed the crabmeat around to everyone else. I invited people to speak about her and what she meant to them. It took a while to warm up and then stories poured out I had never heard, like the first time my aunt, my father’s younger sister, saw my mother and father kissing while they were dating. It was a delightful window into my mother’s life and I felt her palpably with us, smiling. Afterwards, my son Alex and his wife, Petula and my daughter Annie and I took her portion of the crabmeat down to the shore where she swam everyday into her 80’s, and let the crab wash out with the tide.
My mother showed us unconditional love in her death and in her presence with us. Jesus showed the disciples unconditional love through his ascension. Jesus promises that he will always be with us and the Holy Spirit will be coming to show the way. Just as Jesus knows the joys and trials of our lives, so do I feel my mother knows my trials and joys. It is especially comforting because she and I did not always have an easy and loving relationship when she was alive. Her presence now lifts me up.
I know some of you feel your loved ones comforting presence in the same way because you have told me. You can feel through this thin veil that is explained in the poem, “Ascension” in our worship bulletin this morning.
“And if I go,
While you’re still here,
Know that I live on,
Vibrating to a different measure
Behind a thin veil you cannot see through.
You will not see me,
So that you must have faith.
I wait for the time we can soar together again,
Both aware of each other.
Until then, live your life to its fullest.
And when you need me,
Just whisper my name in your heart.
I will be there.
Colleen Corah Hitchcock
I imagine there are others of you who can feel through this thin veil, aware of your loved ones. Jesus assures us of his presence through that veil.
May this day of ascension remind you of how you are lifted up by your loved ones. May you know that Jesus lifts you up through your prayers and thoughts. Jesus is never absent, just as our loved ones are not absent. Happy Mother’s Day, Mum! Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers both who are earth-bound and those who have ascended. Amen.