Sunday, May 24, 2020

7 Easter/The Sunday after the Ascension

May 24, 2020

Acts 1.6-14; John 17.1-17

+ This time of quarantine and self-isolation during this pandemic seems to be going on and on without end.

Yes, some businesses are open.

Yes, some churches are allowing public worship in their buildings again.

But not us.

And, as he said in my letter this past week, and at my announcement at Wednesday night Mass, we will not.

I had hoped that we could all get together again next Sunday, for the Feast of Pentecost.

Yes, we will still dedicate and bless the plaque of St. Stephen’s next week as planned.

But we will do so virtually.  

In fact, I don’t know when we will meet together again in this building.

And I’m not going to guess yet.

As I have said throughout the entire situation: I do not want Sty. Stephen’s the be responsible for anyone getting sick.

I do not want anyone being exposed to anything here.

I have tried to walk a “middle road” through this very difficult situation.

I have tried to walk between the two extremes of this pandemics—those who say it’s all a hoax, that we don’t need masks, that we must open the doors of the church building, and those who say we should not even do what we are doing now—who think we should be essentially wearing Hazmat suits.

I will continue to follow the CDC guidelines, and the Diocesan regulations and consulting people like our very own Dr. John Baird.

So, for now, we wait.

And we continue to do what we have been doing.

We continue to gather virtually.

We continue to worship together at mass twice a week, virtually.

And we continue to do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

We continue to love and worship God.

And we continue to love and serve others.

And we know that despite the fact that this pandemic continues, Christ is still present with us.

Certainly, from our Gospel reading last week and this week, we find that his Presence has not left us.

He is still present, though just in a different form.

Last week in our Gospel reading we heard that he will be present in the Advocate, the Spirit of God, and this week we hear that he will be present in us, in his disciples who keep his word and continue to do his ministry and be his presence in this world.

We celebrated the eve or Vigil of the Feast of the Ascension here at St. Stephen’s on Wednesday night, as we always do.

(Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension)

And as I said then,  I repeat this morning:

I really love the Feast of the Ascension.

I love all that it represents.

I love that sense of going up.

Of rising.

Of moving upward.

Ascension is, of course, all about rising.

This week, we move slowly away from the Easter season toward Pentecost.

You can almost feel the shift.

For the last several weeks, we have been basking in the afterglow of the resurrected Jesus.

In our Gospel readings, this resurrected Jesus has walked with us, has talked with us, has eaten with us and has led the way for us.

Now, as we hear in our reading from Acts this morning, he has been taken up.

We find a transformation of sorts happening in our relationship with Jesus through these scripture readings.

Our perception of Jesus has changed.

For a moment, we feel his absence.

He is not present with us as he was before—walking and talking and eating with his disciples as he was before his ascension.

But, we realize, we will be given something that will not leave us.

We will be given God’s Spirit, right here with us.

We find that truly this Spirit of God is, in our midst.

Us, right here. Right now.

At Pentecost next week,  we will acutely see the fact that God has truly come among us.

God is here, right now, with us. Even in a pandemic.

No, God is not speaking to us not from a pillar of cloud or fire, not on some shroud-covered mountain, not in visions.

Now God is here, with us, speaking to us as we speak to each other.

At the Ascension, the puzzle pieces really start falling into place.

What seemed so confusing and unreal before is starting to come together.

God is with us and truly loves us.

God dwells in us and through us. 

And next week, one more puzzle piece falls into place when Jesus, in a sense, returns.

Next week, we will celebrate God’s Spirit descending upon and staying with us.

For the moment, though, we are caught in between those two events, trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to prepare ourselves for what is about to happen.

We are caught between Jesus’ ascent into heaven and the Spirit’s descent to us.

 It is a time for us to pause, to ponder who we are and where are in this place—in this time in which everything seems so spiritually topsy-turvy.

I’m not certain there is a way we can make sense of the Ascension, but what we are faced with is the fact that this in this ascended Jesus, the God of Jesus still acts in our lives.

God acts in us and through us.

I can’t repeat that enough.

The commission that the ascended Jesus gave to the apostles, is still very much our commission as well.

We must love—fully and completely.

Because in loving, we are living.

In loving, we are living fully and completely.

In loving, we are bringing the ascended Christ to others.

And we must go out and live out this commission in the world.

When we do, the ascended Christ is very much acting in the world.

For those first followers of Jesus, it seems like they didn’t have much of a chance to ponder their life-altering experiences.

As soon as one life-altering experience happened, another one came along.

Just when they had experiences Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, they encountered this outpouring of God’ Spirit in their lives.

The waters, it seemed, were kept perpetually stirred.

Nothing was allowed to settle.

That is what ministry is often like.

One day, very early in my career, much earlier than I was ever ordained,  I came to  realize that Ministry is perpetually on-going.

There is never an ending to it.

Even in a pandemic.

It doesn’t matter if my life is falling apart around me, or that I am  tired.

It’s always something.

This past week was a perfect example of that.

One week brings another set of opportunities, set-backs, trip-ups, tediums, frustrations, joys, celebrations.

 Ministry truly is a never-ending roller-coaster ride of emotions and feelings.

These are things those first followers of Jesus no doubt struggled with.

Yet we, like them, are sustained.

We, like them, are upheld.

We, like them, are supported by the God Jesus ascended to, whose work we are doing in this world.

In those moments when our works seems useless, when it seems like we have done no good work, the ascended Jesus still triumphs.

Our job, in this time between Jesus’ departure from us and his return to us, is to simply let him do what he needs to do in this interim.

We need to let the ascended Jesus work in us and through us.

We need to let the God of this ascended Jesus be the end result of our work.

When we wipe our hands as we walk from the grave, lamenting the fact that it seems no one was saved (as the old Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” goes)  we need to realize that, of course, it seems that way as we gaze downward at our hands.

But above us, the Ascension is happening.

Above us, Jesus has risen.

And we are rising with him, even when it seems like we are bogged down in this very earth.

Above us, Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God.

Above us, that place, that God to whom we are ascending, is there.

All we have to do sometimes is look up.

All we have to do is stop gazing at our dirty, callused, over-worked hands—all we have to do is turn from our self-centeredness—and look up.

And there we will see the triumph.

And as we do, we will realize that more were saved than we initially thought.

Someone was saved.

We were saved.

Jesus has ascended.

But he isn’t gone.

He is with us, now even more so than before his ascension.

He is with us in an even more intimate way.

The joy we feel today comes when we let the ascended Jesus do what he needs to do through us.

We are, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “in the world.”

And because we are, we must do the work we are called to do in this world.

So, let us stop gazing upward at that empty sky into which he has ascended.

There is work to do.

Right here.

Right now.

Even in the midst of a pandemic.

Let’s wipe the sun-blindness from our eyes.

Let us turn toward those around us in need.

And let us be Jesus to those who need Jesus.

And there are people who need us to be Jesus for them.

Even in a pandemic.

There are people who need us to be kind and compassionate and full of love.

There are people who need our acceptance and hospitality.

When we love others, when we are Christ to others, when we bring a God of love and acceptance to others, we allow others to rise as well.

We embody and allow the Ascension to continue in this world.

So, let the joy of the ascension live in us and through us and be reflected to others by us.

We will be sanctified in the truth of knowing and living out our lives in the light of the Ascension.

We will rise.

This morning, we have looked up and we have seen it.

We have seen that rising—his rising and our rising—happening above us in beauty and light and joy .

Let us pray.
Holy God, as we proceed through these last days of the Easter season toward the Feast of Pentecost, prepare us for the Holy Spirit. Open our hearts and our minds to an outpouring of your living and life-giving Spirit. We ask this in the holy Name of Jesus. Amen.

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