The events at the close of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of Acts make up the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his final commandment to the apostles. It also sets the stage for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As I was preparing for this morning’s reflections, I found myself in a bit of a panic. Thursday night I paced around my living room and watched the final episode of the miniseries “The Bible” hoping that I’d be inspired. In the episode, the scene of this morning’s readings took all of about 10 seconds...so, that wasn’t much help. Friday as I sat in the Diocesan Council meeting, I kept ruminating on the gospel text hoping that something would come to the surface. By bedtime at midnight I had resigned myself to preach a sermon written by someone else on the internet.
And then it happened...Saturday as we continued to do our work in Council, as we listened to each other’s concerns and reviewed the materials gathered from the various churches in the diocese, in my mind’s eye the scriptures were opened up to me...and like the angels in the story from Acts, I wondered “why am I looking up”...in other words, what was it that I was looking for?
In reading the texts for this morning, a couple of phrases and ideas stood out to me that I would like to explore with you. Let’s begin with the gospel.
Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures. This idea seemed important to me because I wondered if the disciples finally understood all the parables and teachings that Jesus had given them? Or was there something else going on here? When Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, was he really helping them to understand all that they had been a part of…the healings, the teachings, his death and resurrection…and what was to come with the gifting of the Holy Spirit?
Jesus blessed them. Before Jesus ascends into heaven, he blesses the disciples. I have this image of the disciples standing near Jesus, perhaps in a circle, in this final moment, and that he goes around to each of them, lays hands on them in some way, and tells them he loves them. It’s this image of unconditional, trusting, confident love that Jesus has for his followers, who for better or worse, haven’t always understood their mission and ministry, but who have been called together for a common purpose, that I find so endearing and inspiring in this moment of departure.
And finally…moving to the book of Acts, we have a recounting of the events of the ascension, but with a few new details.
Jesus tells the disciples “You will be my witnesses”. It’s not the great commission, it’s not the sending out two by two, but it is the command that the disciples will carry on the story of Jesus, proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, and continue the mission and ministry that Jesus began.
So what happened in the midst of Diocesan Council meeting that opened up the text for me?
Even in the midst of this wonderful and compelling story and the 10 second video clip from the miniseries, Jesus didn’t give really specific instructions other than to wait. As a person who organizes my days by to-do lists and schedules, as a person who sees a problem and wants to immediately find a solution, as a person who is a “doer”, waiting is one of the worst things I can be asked to do. I want the answers now. So it made me wonder--were some of the disciples like me in this respect? Is this why Jesus says that it is not for us to know the times and purposes of God? Is this why he tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit?
In the Council meeting this weekend we wrestled with the questions about the future episcopal leadership in our diocese. While some answers presented themselves, not all things were resolved. We left the meeting with the directive to return to our congregations, listen and pray...to wait on the Holy Spirit...and that we’d reconvene in August.
I believe this day reminds us that while we too have been blessed by Jesus to serve as witnesses and continue his mission and ministry of bringing about the Kingdom, we don’t always know what comes next. So we have a choice...we can panic, become impatient and worry about the unknown, or we can do what the disciples did...we can wait with joy and hope, and continue to be Christ’s hands in the world, knowing that due time the Spirit will guide us in new directions and ministry.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.