written and preached by Rev. Natalie Shiras
May 20, 2012
Acts 1:1-11 + John 17:6-19
Ascension Day often gets overlooked in the interlude between Easter and Pentecost. The Biblical story that we hear in the Book of Acts about Jesus being beamed up into the clouds seems unimaginable. Yet here is Jesus’ ascension recorded in the very beginning of the history of the early church and it’s also recorded at the end of the gospel of Luke.
On the one hand this story is all about Jesus and his miraculous and mysterious departure from this world. He appeared on earth after his resurrection and now he is returning to the heavens.
On the other hand the story is all about the disciples and us. Jesus is no longer here to preach the good news, heal the sick, feed the hungry. This work now falls to the disciples and to us. Further Jesus tells the disciples immediately before his liftoff that they will take the ministry global (“to the ends of the earth”). No wonder they stood gazing toward heaven.
Being given work to do is not new to the disciples. What is new is that now they are on their own. They are on their own in this interlude between Jesus’ resurrection at Easter and the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost. As a community of Christians we are in this in-between time. Jesus has withdrawn from the earth and the Holy Spirit is gathering itself in the wings.
We can easily understand this in-between time when we are in the midst of uncertainty or expectation. That time of loss of a loved one, unemployment or between jobs, broken relationships, the summer before leaving for college, waiting for a baby to be born, itching for a cast to be removed, awaiting the results of a biopsy, watching as someone slips away to Alzheimer’s. What are other examples of in-between times?
An in-between time can be disconcerting. It certainly was for the disciples. It seemed like Jesus was not coming back, as the quote of the day in your bulletin reads. Are you surprised? Do you feel discomfort? Are you inspired? Are you puzzled? “He is not coming back, you know. He is not coming back, unless…..” Unless what?
In the in-between time it’s easy to get discouraged, to feel like a victim, to feel like there is nothing we can do. But we can bring ourselves to bear. In the gospel reading from John, Jesus is praying to God for providential care and assuring the disciples in his last time with them before he leaves, that God is always seeking relationship. The disciples and we too do not need to be responsible for or even anxious about “finding” God. God will always be present regardless if Jesus is there. We don’t need to give up loving or caring or helping others just because we are in that in-between time. We have God’s protection and guidance.
What a relief to know that God’s blessings are always with us and that life comes from God. We live in that creative tension between what was and what is to be, trusting God’s well being for us.
So go ahead and continue to wash dishes, and weed and tend gardens, and shop for groceries, or take a neighbor or friend to the doctor’s. This is what Jesus meant by healing the sick and feeding the hungry and welcoming the outcast. We do not need to figure it all out! We do not need to get it perfect. Discipleship happens in the mess, in the chaos, in the in-between time. Notice these interludes and let life unfold just a little more.
The early Christians were called the people of the way. We are the people of the way, followers of Jesus’ way, as the hands, feet, eyes, and voice of Christ in the world. St Teresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic and poet from Spain expresses this neatly:
“God of love, help us to remember
That Christ has no body now on earth but ours,
No hands but ours, no feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.
Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now.
Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.”