We’ve all been through it – and without a doubt we’ll go through it again … as a matter of fact, we’re going through it right now as a parish community. It’s a time of change, a time of saying good-byes . . . and with that can come a feeling of loss and grief.
But every end is a beginning. And so while we’re saying goodbye, at the same time, we’re looking forward with hope and excitement to new relationships, new directions, new energy. And what at first seemed to leave our world turned upside down – can begin to lead to the promise of good and wonderful things to come.
Things are changing here at St. Mary’s. The worship space is taking on a fantastic new look – yes? At the same time we’re saying good-bye to some in the community: Fr. George has retired, so although he’s staying here with us, we’re saying good-by to his more active ministry – Denise will be leaving her office ministry after many, many years – and I’m saying good-bye to you today . . . All this leaves us in a time of significant transition.
So what does this feel like for you? What are you experiencing during this transition? . . . Does it leave you feeling anxious or scared . . .dazed … maybe even some how lost? Or does it inspire excitement for the future, even hope for new purpose and new meaning in your life here together?
(And just know that you’re not crazy if you feel a little bit of all these things from time to time . . . change does that. And if there’s a sense of being off-balance in it all, that can be just the time that the Holy Spirit enters your life in dramatic ways!)
The reading from Acts this morning describes the scene of Jesus’ Ascension – and his disciples and followers are watching him leave – lifted up – out of their sight. Think back over what they’ve been through. Jesus left them once before before – at his crucifixion. At that point their total focus was gone, the meaning of their lives was gone.
Try putting yourself in their place. We’re one of those long-term followers of Jesus; we’ve been following around after him for about three years. We’ve seen him do some pretty fantastic things – healing people when they’re sick, feeding them when they’re hungry.
Because Jesus is with us and we’re with him, our life has taken on new purpose and a sense of fulfillment – life for the first time seems worthwhile. We’re on a roll. Things seem secure and we’re where we want to be. We follow Jesus to Jerusalem and he enters into the city with crowds cheering him on. But by mid week things start to change – they change drastically. Jesus is talking about leaving – and by that he means he will be killed, brutely – this is how he will leave. And he says some mystical sounding words: “I am leaving you but I am coming to you.”
True to the words he spoke and the words written in scripture, he is killed – crucified. And we’re left feeling: anxious and frightened . . . lost . . . even abandoned. It seems the total focus of life is gone, and we can only wonder: “Is Jesus gone? Is he really gone?”
But then he appears again: we see him, we talk with him, we walk with him, we eat with him. He is here alive . . . very much alive. (This is during those forty days after we first discovered that the tomb was empty and the two angels said “He is not here, he is risen.”) Our lives are lifted up along with him in new life. Joy and purpose return . . . . . . “Is he gone?” . . . Oh, no!! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
And now, as we join the disciples in today’s reading from Acts, we are asking if NOW is the time when the kingdom will be restored. Has the Kingdom of God – on earth — arrived? And Jesus’ answer? It is not for us to know how or when. We must accept in faith; it’s out of our control. We must surrender this all to God’s plan and His timing. But . . . we are promised that God’s presence and power are coming in the Holy Spirit.
But just then He is gone … again … lifted up … his physical presence, his energy ascending. Can you imagine being there, wanting to cling to His energy, follow Him as he rises up, follow that energy pulling us up and into a union of Spirit in love.
But we’re still here on earth.. Our hour has not yet come. And we’re left suspended … left waiting and expectant. We have been raised, at least for the present, to a higher place, in a plane suspended between heaven and earth. We’re on the threshold of an awesome new dimension – our eyes and hearts have been opened to the prospect of a new exciting reality, out of time, out of space. But our feet are still firmly planted on the ground. And it’s here that we, as the church, are waiting for Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit will come.
Back to the scene with the disciples and the story from Acts. Jesus gives his followers a commission: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth And he said to his followers, “Stay here. Wait. Wait until you have been clothed with power.” . . . Why the wait? Why must we sit and wait . . .
Perhaps it’s God who is waiting — waiting for us, for me and for you, to respond – waiting for us to say “yes” with our lives – to say “yes” in readiness — or at least in willingness — to co-operate with God for what God has in mind for our lives – for our lives and for the world we live in . . .
Dag Hammarskjöld, the great Secretary General of the United Nations in the late 1950’s — Hammarskjöld wrote these words in his diary just before Pentecost in 1961:
“…at some moment I did answer Yes . . . and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
As we wait for Pentecost, maybe God is waiting for us to say Yes to Him with our lives– the Yes that will open up the channel of God’s power at work within us and through us. And today as we say our goodbyes during this time of transition at St. Mary’s, our prayer can be this:
“For all that has been “Thanks! For all that will be “Yes.”
Today we’re celebrating Ascension Sunday. . . “Is Jesus gone . . . up, up and away? Is he really gone? Not if you remember his promise of the Holy Spirit – because the promise of the Spirit is a promise for this earth, this place, this time – today.
Ascension Day is not a call to sit by – passively — looking upward:
- It is a call to say “yes” to all that has been and all that will be. . .
- It is a call to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit . . .
- And it is a call to trust that Jesus’ promise is down here – NOW — in and around us.
The Holy Spirit is coming . . . and is continuing to come – and if we say Yes, that Holy Spirit will surprise us at most every turn and transition in our lives here and now !!
Let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit, come to us in this time and place – in our time of transition. . .
- Come to us when we sit in silence and wait for you . . .
- and come to us when we are moving too fast to even be aware of you.
- Transform us as we say Yes to you . . . . . .
- Surprise us . . . revive us . . . and shape us into the Body of Christ. Amen.
(Prayer adapted from The Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad)