Ascension Sunday – 5/20/12

Ascension Sunday, Year B

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the feast of the ascension.  The stories about our risen Christ ascending into heaven are recorded by Luke, both in his gospel and the Book of Acts, which is really the second volume he wrote.  Luke says the ascension happened forty days after Easter, which means it was on a Thursday. This year, like many churches, we have moved the feast to the next Sunday so we can celebrate it today.

Next week, we will hear the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Pentecost is one of the “big three” celebrations of the church along with Christmas and Easter.  Red is the traditional color of Pentecost, because red is the symbolic color of the Holy Spirit who came with tongues of fire.  So if you have something red, wear it next week.

Altar Flowers at St. Mark's

That’s next week, though.  This week is Ascension. Ascension is a season within Easter, the last 10 days of the 50 days of Easter, so the color is still white.  So we couldn’t leave up the pretty red paraments from the ordination yesterday.  We had to take them down and wait until next week to put them back.

The season of Ascension is a time of waiting and praying. That’s what Jesus tells the disciples to do when he leaves them and ascends to heaven.

Waiting can be fun sometimes.  It is especially fun if you are a child and and you can enjoy the excitement leading up to a trip to an amusement park, or a birthday party, or Christmas presents.  You know the outcome will be good and you can enjoy the time of guessing what great thing is coming next.

Waiting usually isn’t fun for us though.  I struggle with doing it well and perhaps you do, too.

We wait for many things.  We wait for traffic lights.  We wait for the trains to cross. We wait until we are old enough to drive. We wait in lines at the store. We wait for a job so we can buy the things we need.

We wait for test results and grades in school. We wait for test results from the doctor and the lab. We wait for the birth of a child, hoping for good health for the mother and child both.  We wait to grow up and leave home.  We wait for our children to grow up and leave home.  We all waited through the interim time and the call process.

We wait for everything, it seems.  We even wait for God to call us home at the end.

We Christians are not the only people who have trouble waiting.  Our whole society has a hard time with it.  We put Christmas decorations in the stores after Halloween, and Easter candy after Valentine’s Day.

Our election process is another example, too.  How many of us think the whole thing takes too long and wish it were over much more quickly?  We want action, not sitting around.

Waiting is hard, but it is what Jesus tells the disciples to do when he ascends. The second thing he tells them to do is pray.  He tells them it is not for them to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  He gives them the mission to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  And he promises the Holy Spirit will come and give them power.  They went back to that upper room and devoted themselves to prayer.

When I read this, I wondered what they prayed for.  It must have been sad to see Jesus go after the joy of seeing him resurrected and being with him again during those forty days.  It must have been glorious to watch, but Jesus was gone again.  Although they had the promise of the Holy Spirit, all they could do was wait and pray.

How do we pray when we are waiting?  Do we say, “Help me Lord, I have waited long enough?” I know I say that, a lot, but I do not hold myself up as an example here.  We have a better example with Jesus.

When he prayed for his disciples and for us, he prayed that we may all be one.  He prayed for the safety of his followers.  We can also pray for patience and understanding since God’s concept of time is not the same as ours.  Jesus says it is not for us to know how long we must wait for God’s time.

Kathleen Norris, in her book, Amazing Grace, says the most important verse to remember when praying is, “Be still and know that I am God.”  When we are waiting, we are reminded that God is God and we don’t have to be. God cares for us and provides for our every need. We are never left alone.

The ascension was not the end of Jesus’ earthly presence.  It was only the beginning.  It was there that he promised never to abandon us.  He promised that his Holy Spirit would come.  The Holy Spirit brings us the gift of faith and the power to be witnesses. We are not alone and we will never be alone, no matter what we are facing in life. God is always with us.

When we are waiting, we can pray for our friends as Jesus did. We can pray that they will be protected and live in unity.  We can pray for the church as Jesus did.  We can pray for the unity of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon us.

During this Ascension Season and during any time of change and transition in our lives, Jesus tells us to wait and to pray.  We don’t have to worry or have any anxiety about it though.  The risen and ascended Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit will come to us and we will receive power to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.

We know Christ keeps all his promises.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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