The Feast of the Ascension coming as it does mid week on a Thursday passes without much notice. If there is a service it is usually a quiet one attended by the faithful few. I grew up in a tradition where it was marked with great solemnity. Children from the congregation were encouraged to attend a morning service. We were given a holy card to take to school to explain our lateness, so of course, we attended in droves.
I remember the service well. The paschal candle, lit for the first time at the Easter Vigil and then for each service during Easter tide was extinguished. It was removed from the centre aisle of the church and placed by the font. In a very tangible way it caused us to reflect on the meaning of the Ascension of Christ, that the risen Christ was no longer present in physical form. It resonated in us the question the disciples were asked as they continued to gaze toward Heaven. “Why do you stand looking up into heaven?” It was a reminder that the time for a tangible, visible presence is over. Jesus is still present to the Church. Jesus will always be present to the Church, but in a new way. This is not the time for stargazing. This is the time to prepare ourselves to be the church in the world.
That makes it a time of transition in our lives. We know such times in our personal lives. They can be times of bewilderment and fear; they can also be times of great excitement and progress if we do not allow ourselves to get bogged down by what is happening. Above all they are times marked by the passing of the torch.
I remember so well that feeling as I participated in the funeral for my father. I looked around at my brother and sisters and realized that we were now the older generation. The torch had been passed to us. It came to me as I suspect it comes to most people with a sense of shock. It was now up to us to carry on the family traditions. Mine is the generation that is responsible for the state of things. There is no one else to blame. That is an awesome responsibility.
Is that why the disciples stood there looking up into the heavens? They have been basking in the glow of the resurrection. They have been rejoicing that their beloved leader after being cruelly executed is with them once again. They have been experiencing the power of God at work in their lives. And now Jesus has been taken away from them. This time there is a finality about it. He has prepared them for the time, but somehow you are never really ready for it. He has commissioned them, giving them a wonderful promise. “You will receive power. You will be my witnesses in
There is something very exciting, energizing, about having the torch passed on to you, about coming into your own, about taking responsibility. I think the time I see that excitement most clearly is when people become parents. So many things change for them. They change the way they live their lives. They drive more cautiously. They give up their self indulgent ways to live more simply, to consider the needs of the family before their own. Life becomes focused on the family. They become more concerned with their faith. They bring their children for baptism as these two families have today. They make decisions about their sense of commitment.
The disciples were energized by Jesus’ promise. That is evident by their actions. They become a community gathered in preparation. They have shared in the difficult times. Now they share in prayer. It is an excellent model of what needs to happen at St. Francis if this congregation is to be truly alive.
Like the disciples we may be handling a difficult situation in our personal lives. It may be an in between time in our lives, a time between loss and promise. We all face those times in our lives – the loss of a loved one, empty nest syndrome, broken relationships. How we deal with them and allow ourselves to know the promise of God is a measure of our commitment to the gospel.
It happens in our parish life. It is not always easy to live as we do as part of an Ecumenical community of faith, especially when one of our partners is unable to meet their financial obligations. The Church Centre seems like an amazing opportunity to share in ministry, but the reality is that when survival is in question human nature being what it is, we look for someone to blame. It is easy to become self absorbed and not open yourselves to the wider community. There is the worry that they will get swallowed up by the larger congregations. We forget what a blessing it is to serve God in our diversity of ways.
There is an energy that comes about whenever people share their faith with one another. It is a curious thing, but when we find ourselves moved to say to one another, “I believe”, then that excitement gets passed on. The question is, how do we do it? How do we live in uncertain times still holding the promise of Jesus? The same promise that he gave to the disciples, he gives to each one of us.
For that, the disciples are a wonderful role model. We need only follow their example. The first thing is obvious; the others are implied. They prayed. They came together as a community and they prayed. They prayed for one another. They prayed for the needs they saw around themselves in the world. They looked back on what Jesus had told them and they savoured the message. They remembered the promises and looked forward to the time they would be fulfilled. They focused on what was really important. And they lived as if … They lived with hope, trusting the promises.
There is such an air of expectancy about the disciples, a sense of urgency. “What next?” they seem to be saying. They are about to embark on a new way without Jesus to guide them. This is uncharted territory. The way ahead is not clear. It is a time of testing, of discovery.
We all need times like that in our lives. They are fruitful times. So in those in between times we need to pray. Pray even when the prayer is “I can’t pray!” Consider the loss and find out what it means in your life. Does it mean that I should be spending more time with my spouse? Does it mean putting into action something that I have been intending to do my whole life? Where is God leading me?
As a congregation we need to grasp the in between times in exactly the same way. Our Advisory Board is going to do exactly that as they go away for a retreat. Maybe there are others who would be willing to be part of that. We need to go away to learn, to pray, to dream and especially to hope. To look for the hope in everything that is happening. And then to put it all into action, knowing that God’s promises hold good.
Let us live with an air of expectancy, with a sense of urgency about the faith. Let us share our faith with conviction and excitement.