Ascension Sunday
Acts 1:1-11

If anything has been crystalized over these past weeks, I hope it is the truth about where and what the church is and what it is not. While our building doors are closed, there are some ways in which the church has never seemed more open. People have connected in ways that they never did before. Parents and children, sisters and brothers and friends, are finding common ground and worshiping together. Some of us have never prayed more or more fervently in a good long while.

And yes, we all miss the fellowship. Lord knows I do. We miss the sight and sounds of humans, passing the peace, the choir singing and our own voices blending. We miss coffee hour and Carl Condra’s pimento cheese sandwiches. We miss our routines, our favorite seat or section in the pews, and all those patterns that are intricately woven into our Sunday experiences.  

We might be asking ourselves, how long? How long will it take before we can gather again?  How long will it be until the doors swing wide and we hear our favorite hymns sung again?  How long before we see children gathered on our steps and the communion table spread with white linens?

These are reasonable questions for the reasonable. Alas, I must tell you that I don’t have the answers. We will be having Holy Communion virtually on June 7th. Other than that, I don’t know how long. But what I do know is that we will be closely following the mandate and instructions of our leader, the presiding Bishop of the New York Annual Conference, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton. He has laid out very clear and specific guidelines for us and all 467 churches under his care. They have been placed on our church website, so feel free to look.    

The Scriptures tell us that the sheep know the voice of the true Shepherd. And Bishop Bickerton has risen to this strange and unusual circumstance with the best interest of all the sheep in mind. He has led with courage and grace, wisdom, and discernment.  

A “Re-opening Committee” has been formed and we will be meeting soon. And we will be laying out the plans for moving forward. My friends, there comes a time when we need good leaders and we need to let good leaders lead – while trusting that even if we disagree, they are committed to our good end.

I hope you will stick with us and not grow weary of waiting and doing what is right for the greater good as we stand in solidarity and love our neighbors as ourselves during this pandemic. 

Right now, one of the most loving things that any of us can do is to take care of ourselves as best we can, follow the guidelines, wear our masks, and distance ourselves so that others can also be safe. If even one life is spared, that is a life worth saving.  

In the liturgical calendar, today is Ascension Sunday. Jesus takes the disciples back to the Mount of Olives where they have spent much time together. It is now some 40 days after the Resurrection and Jesus gives them instructions on what to do. After all they have seen and heard, witnessed and done, there is still a word for them and the way forward.   

Luke tells us that “Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, starting here in Jerusalem. And you are to be my witnesses of these things:’” the things that you have seen and heard and experienced. [1]

Many theologians say, this is the time when Jesus moves on to receive the greater glory that is due to him. His parting words are simple: proclaim a message of repentance (change) and forgiveness of sins (which in effect, is a message of freedom and liberation.) These are hard messages, then and now.  

They sound good if we can hear from a distance, but up close they are often difficult to speak and hear, even more difficult to live out. Because who wants to hear that change is necessary? Who wants to hear that perhaps there are things within our own selves – our living and being that need to be addressed, forgiven, and rectified?  

Because all too often in our own eyes, we are doing just fine. It is the other people, the other person that needs to change.   

Who needs to forgive? And to be forgiven? And how do we work toward the freedom and liberation of all? How can we come to grips with those truths and those systems that bind people all around us? And how can we find the time, energy, and will when our own plates are so full?   

Jesus said, “Wait. And you will receive power from on high. You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit but wait here in Jerusalem and the Spirit will come upon you.”  

Now, we don’t like to wait much, do we? We live in a culture of here and now; a fast-paced world of instant answers and gratification. We like to speed things up as quickly as possible: move it along, fix it now. We don’t want to be denied, nor inconvenienced whatsoever. Part of the trauma of COVID-19 is that we don’t have answers and it is taking too long.   

But perhaps we ought to turn our attention to those who have been waiting for a long, long time, for they will help us to see what we are to do. Perhaps we need to look again at those who live with this anxiety, worry, and unknowing every day. Those for whom answers never come quickly. Those generations for whom the answers for justice and equity are still “No.”     

I have wondered about this. Why Jesus would instruct them to tarry in Jerusalem? What they were doing in the meantime? Why not give them everything, right then and there?  What were they doing – sitting around, eating, sleeping, and being quarantined? 

Perhaps he was remembering how they had been with him, learning and training, watching for 3 long years, but when the going got rough, they fell apart. They were afraid and unable to persevere. Maybe he wanted to see if they could follow the simplest instructions.  Perhaps, he understood how arduous the road ahead would be and how they would need to remain focused. I don’t know. But he said: Wait. Wait in Jerusalem.  

And what I know is that waiting does not mean doing nothing. What might seem like wasted time might be the best time for clarity and understanding.    

We might have to tarry for a while, so we get our agenda straight; so that our motives and actions are fully aligned. So that we can prioritize what is important and what is not.  

We wait in prayer and discernment – seeking clarity so that we might arise with purpose.  

We wait on the Holy Spirit, who is the living, active presence of God in the world – in the church and in our own lives. The Holy Spirit – ah – next week is Pentecost. Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit breathing in on us. Directing our path. Showing and leading and giving us strength!

Jesus then raised his hands and was taken away. Lifted on a cloud. Ascended out of their sight. 

And they are left standing there gazing, looking up when two men dressed in robes stood before them.  

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here gazing up toward heaven?”   

What are we to be doing with ourselves? 

The work of Christ is on the ground, my friends. And the ground is dirty, is it not? Dirty and gritty. Messy. Tiring. Draining. On the ground is where the real work is, where the tasks are so large that we sometimes would rather look away and not notice them at all.      

It seems like forever, but we can shorten the gap. We can hasten the end. We can lighten the way.  

We might note that Jesus’ glory comes after his good work. After he has taught and performed miracles. After he had walked away from everything that had once mattered.  After being abandoned. After he had stood alone. After being accused, lied on, and rejected.  After he had been stripped and killed in body, mind, and spirit. After he had gone through something for goodness sake – something much larger than himself – for your sake and my sake and for the sake of this old world. Only then was Jesus glorified – taken out of it all.  Only then did he receive the glory that we all long for.

How long? Until there is no more of us to give.    

Jesus said, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all men (all women, all children) – people unto myself.”  

Here we are in this dark valley. Perhaps there is no better time to lift the message and work of Christ – in words, actions, and deeds, lift him up for all to see. How long? Not long. 

[1] Luke 24:45-48