Sunday, May 16, 2021 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Psalm 47:1-6 and Luke 24: 44-53 Ascension Sunday
God of glory, God of life, God of Ascension Sunday;
Open our hearts and minds to experience this Sunday and its scriptures afresh. Let this Sunday be a gateway onto what has never been before. Let our souls breathe hope. Amen.
We hear this same story every year on Ascension Sunday. At the end of Luke, and then again at the beginning of Acts (though a bit expanded), Luke tells us of Jesus leaving his followers and ascending into the clouds. Cue Ascension window. We have heard it so many times that perhaps we just take the story, and the reaction of the disciples, for granted. Our focus tends to be on the spectacular—cue window once again. Jesus rises up, shining in glory, into the radiant clouds of God, with awe-struck disciples on their knees gazing upward.
But hear again Luke’s description of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus leaving them on their own and going away—and the instruction not to run off with all this amazing news, but to wait—to wait—in Jerusalem. “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” I don’t think Luke is being untruthful. I do believe the disciples got there eventually—worship and joy and blessing. However, I also believe Luke left a few other emotions and reactions out of his narrative. Perhaps Luke included a few of those reactions in the expanded Book of Acts version. “Lord, are you going to restore everything now?” the disciples’ ask, full of emotion, in Acts telling. And then those resurrection angels show up again to nudge the disciples off of their awe-struck knees and send them back to Jerusalem for the waiting.
The disciples were full of good news to share, news of resurrection and enduring love and unlimited forgiveness. However, they were also full of grief, and worry, and not a small amount of fear and anxiety. Jerusalem wasn’t exactly the safest place to be, having just crucified their Teacher. And their beloved Teacher was leaving them yet again. True, this time it wasn’t in death, but he was still leaving, and would be absent from their lives in a tangible way going forward. So what comes next? What is this ‘power’ they are to wait for? What does it mean to be a witness? What comes next? Uncertainty is so unsettling, so anxiety-provoking, so…uncertain. The disciples were brimming with all they needed to know to get started sharing the good news with the world, but they had no clue what to do next. Who will lead them now? What comes next? Can’t they just skip the waiting and welcome this ‘new power’ right now? Surely this new power will tell them what to do, right?
This is a story about transitions, about going through great change. This is a story about experiencing the holiness in the waiting. My beloved St. Paulians—and perhaps many of those visiting and worshiping with us today—we are in a season of transitions as a community. We have been in this transitional season for months and months now—anticipating my farewell, yearning for the vaccine to release us from solitude and masks, eager to truly meet Pastor Beckie and ‘get moving’ with her in ministry. We are in a season of waiting and waiting is hard! Though we aren’t eager to say good-bye, the urge to somehow just jump ahead is still there. Can’t we just skip to when everything is settled and certainty glimmers on the horizon? Amen!
Nope. We can’t. We have to wait. Today’s Luke reading comes to us as pure gift. The disciples lead the way for us. They model holy waiting. Choose joy. Attend to worship and the blessing of and with God. Continue in the spiritual practices, the acts of mercy and justice, that we have been called to in our walk with Jesus, with God. Trust in the promise Jesus has made to us. The waiting will end. As the choir sang for us, “God will open a door.” God will call us on, to leave behind our waiting, to go forward celebrating. But, until the door opens, let us see the joy in this holy waiting, the joy within us. Let us worship, continually. Let us bless God, continually. Let our soul breathe hope.
As we did last week, those in person are invited to close your eyes or find something meditative to hold your gaze. Those worshiping online will have images on your screen, but you also may close your eyes if so moved. Let us be wrapped in prayer, “In This Newborn Light;” A prayer by John Philip Newell.
In This Newborn Light
A Prayer by John Philip Newell
For the freshness of this new day
thanks be to you, O God.
For morning’s gift of clarity,
its light like the first day’s dawn,
thanks be to you.
In this newborn Light, let us see afresh.
In this gateway onto what has never been before…
Let our soul breathe hope;
for the earth,
for the creatures,
for the human family.
Let our soul breathe hope.
Let our soul breathe hope…
in this newborn Light.