May 21, 2023
Acts 1.6-14; John 17.1-17
+ As many of you know, these last five years have been hard years for this old priest.
It has been a long, hard journey for me.
My mother’s death in January 2018 upended my life in ways I could never have foreseen.
And I found myself in those days and weeks and months…and yes, years…afterward struggling.
My writing career essentially ended.
For twenty-five years before that, I was a disciplined writer.
I was up early every morning, and every morning without fail, I would write at my desk.
I would proclaim to my students, “There is no such thing as writer’s block!”
I would say, “If you can’t write, sit yourself down at that desk and write anyway. And it will come!”
But when my mother died, sitting down at the desk itself became something impossible.
I couldn’t do it.
I was up early every morning.
But it was not to write.
I did eventually manage to get back to some semblance of writing.
But it wasn’t like it was before.
And then, when I finally finished the book about my experience with my mother’s death, I received only silence from every publisher I sent it.
The book never got rejected.
Which was new for me.
A colleague told me that showed how far I had come in my career.
“They’re afraid to reject your work.”
But I’d take a rejection any day over ghosting.
It was so bad that last February when I was in Florida, I made the resolution that I was simply going to throw in the towel regarding my writing.
I was done with writing, I told myself.
Besides, I had written enough.
And then…when I got back, another colleague I shared my resolution with, told me to contact a poet friend of his.
She in turn told me to submit my manuscript to a press she suggested.
And within a week, the book was accepted!
And the floodgates suddenly opened.
The end of that dark five year wandering in the desert finally came to an end.
Just like that.
And here I am, up every morning, writing every morning.
I have not one but two books coming out this fall, plus a show with local painter Marjorie Schlossman in September.
And I’m working on a full-length play for Theatre B.
Sometimes, this is what life is like.
Sometimes, life is a matter of the death of the cross.
Sometimes, it is an unending waiting in the tomb.
And sometimes, it is resurrection.
And sometimes it is not even just resurrection.
Sometimes, it is ascension.
This past week, at our Wednesday night Mass, 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 moving upward.
Of this ultimate triumph over death and darkness and defeat and rejection and wondering about in the desert.
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 through these scripture readings.
Yes, there is this absence as Jesus ascends.
We feel an absence in our relationship with the God of Jesus, whom we have come to know intimately through Jesus.
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.
No, God is not speaking to us not from a pillar of cloud or fire, nor on some shroud-covered mountain, nor 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.
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 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 God of the ascended Christ to others.
And we must go out and live out this commission 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 life is often like.
We have ebbs and we have flows.
There will be times of dryness and there will be times of flourishing.
And the great thing about our faith is it shows that oftentimes, when things seem like they are dead and gone, we find life renewed.
And not just renewed, by life resurrected and ascended.
Our job, in this time between Jesus’ departure from us and the Spirit’s return to us, is to simply let God do what God needs to do in this interim.
We need to let God work in us and through us.
We need to let the God of this ascended Jesus be the end result of our work.
Oftentimes we are so downcast by the things life throws at us that we forget to look up.
Because if we do look up, what will we see?
We will see that 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.
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.
All we have to do in our exhaustion as we wander about in what seems like a landscape of death and rejection is simply to look up.
And there we will see the triumph.
Jesus’ ascension is our ascension as well.
We too have ascended to our God.
The joy we feel today comes when we realize that fact and truly act as resurrected and ascended people.
Yes, 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.
But we are also of the world to come, as well.
So, let us stop wringing our hands and lamenting our losses.
Let us stop wandering about aimlessly in our grief and sorrow.
There is work to do.
Let us turn toward those around us in need.
And let us be the ascended Christ to those who need Christ.
And there are people who need us to be Christ for them.
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 bring a God of love and acceptance to others, we allow others to rise and ascend 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.