I am what is known as a gap baby.
And no, that doesn’t mean that my parents bought all of my clothes at Baby Gap (did that even exist in the 60s?).
What it means is that there was a fairly long time, between the birth of my two brothers who are a year apart and my own very much unplanned pregnancy and birth. I grew up with an odd combination of feeling like I had siblings, and other times like I had 3 fathers, being the baby of the family and being an only child, the birth order and family systems theorists would have a field day.
What I liked best about having two older brothers was that there was always one of them that tried something or did something that my parents reacted to…
and I had the unique vantage point of watching how they reacted without that reaction being pointed at me.
I learned quite a bit about decisions and life choices by observing these ‘reactive conversations’ in my house growing up.
I admit it – I was taking notes in my head not only about the difference between right and wrong, but also where there were loopholes in the system.
My brothers went before me, growing up and experiencing things while I had the advantage of watching and learning in the background.
I love them for this.
This is the very same reason that I love the disciples so much.
In the midst of the narrative of Jesus throughout our scriptures, the disciples give so many insights as to what normal people… people like you and I… were thinking.
I take great comfort in how those early disciples spent a great deal of their time flummoxed by Jesus, believing, following, but often being stumped by the magnitude of what was happening around them.
While this is true in many places, the story we hear in Acts today about the Ascension of Jesus is classic, when we take a look at it through their eyes.
As you probably know, the Ascension of Jesus is when his physical body is lifted towards the heavens in the dramatic scene that we heard John Avery read today.
It occurs 40 days from Easter Sunday, so this past Thursday.
It marks the end of his post resurrection time with the disciples, giving them those final, and hopefully lasting instructions,
and is 10 days before Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit, that Advocate he’s been promising, will arrive.
So Ascension marks the beginning of an in between time, a liminal or transitional space.
Jesus crosses a threshold from one way of being to another and the disciples have to figure out what they do next.
When you google images of the ascension… you’ll find all kinds of amazing art depicting Jesus, usually dressed in full and flowy white robes being lifted away from the crowd, his hands outstretched as if he’s giving one last blessing to the little people left on earth,
Meanwhile, they look upwards prayerfully in awe and delight as his rising.
What a magnificent scene these artists portray.
I’m not buying it.
I personally am drawn to the medieval paintings that show Mary and the disciples with only a depiction of Jesus’s feet in the frame.
Drawn from the disciple’s perspective, the last thing they see of Jesus while they are still standing on the ground.
There is actually a sculpture of this in the Ascension Chapel at the Shrine Our Lady of Walsingham, in England. The sculpture is installed on the ceiling of the chapel and is of just the feet of Jesus dangling from above as the rest of his body is already gone.
I’ll send you the link; it’s funny and very poignant.
The first time I saw it, it was jarring and unsettling.
He really is gone… all I can see is his feet above my head.
Which is exactly what I think our disciples felt.
Imagine that scene!
Let’s take a moment and put ourselves there. We are about a day’s walk from where we live, traveling with the community of folks who have formed by being followers of Jesus.
We’ve been through his death, his resurrection and Jesus has now returned to apparently hang out with us for a while.
Imagine this scene.
Ever since the resurrections, Jesus has been alluding to the fact that he’ll be leaving soon, which we’ve been largely ignoring.
I mean, he left once before and came back, that was strange and wonderful, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that this will probably be the same.
We’ll always have him around,
Israel will be restored; it’s going to be great!
What’s bugging us now it
That we really want to know when.
I mean, we need to make some plans, can you give is a hard date, Jesus?
We need to add it to the calendar. Seems like a perfectly reasonable request.
This time, Jesus is kinda cranky back.
He goes off about how It is not for us to know the times or periods that the Father has set… He sounds frustrated.
Like we’re the pesky kids in the backseat asking Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
And he’s the parent saying shush, we’ll get there when we get there! And there’s something about some Spirit that sending to take his place.
Huh? What’d he say?
Did you hear what he said?
Witnesses? We’ll be the witnesses?
Is there going to be another trial?
And then Jesus is lifted up.
And then! Jesus is lifted up into the clouds and is gone!
Poof. Just that that. (pause)
We are speechless. Mute. Dumbfounded. Shocked.
At a total loss for words.
We take our eyes off the clouds and there are two men in front of us, wearing white robes, asking us why we are standing there, looking towards heaven.
We are a day’s walk out of the city, we are someplace in Jersey and two guys are looking at us, saying,
What are you lookin’ at?
We are incredulous!
Did…Did…did you not just see? (Point) What are we lookin’ at?
What are YOU lookin’ at!
In all seriousness.
Jesus has been taken to heaven.
He’s bridged the two worlds of fully human and fully divine.
The fully human person we can completely relate to… Who was one of us.
Seen by us. Touched by those early disciples.
Even after the resurrection:
touched and seen first by Mary Magdalene in the Garden, and by Thomas in the upper room.
Jesus, the subject of not only great deeds but some human crankiness and frustration, too.
Fully human and relatable.
And yet, we have born witness to his complete divinity.
And now his body raised into heaven,
gone from our day to day sight.
God from God,
Light from Light, true God from true God…
Godly and divine in every way.
This both / and, fully human and divine, as disciples, we lived it all.
And now we find ourselves in the in between space before the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
Not knowing what comes next.
Confused and unmoored.
A transitional time of unknowing.
Recognize how they are feeling?
I do not have to make a strong case for the parallel from these disciples and our current situation in a time of pandemic; a time of transition and not knowing.
In fact, I am fully confident that you have already made that leap.
Transitional space. What do we do with it?
My favorite metaphor for transitional time was written by Danaan Parry in a book called Warriors of the Heart, it is a short piece called the Parable of the Trapeze.
Imagine a trapeze artist swinging on a bar, gathering speed.
He compares normal life with that trapeze bar, one that we are comfortable with, swinging away quite happily, until that one day when we see another empty bar swinging toward us that represents new growth.
“Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one.
But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time,
I must hurtle across space before
I can grab onto the new bar.”
“Each time, I am filled with terror.
It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles
across the void of unknowing
I have always made it.
I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars.
I do it anyway.
Perhaps this is the essence of what mystics call the faith experience.
No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.
So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes,
I soar across the dark void of
“the past is gone; the future is not yet here.”
This is called transition… its where the real change occurs.
Our society tells us that we must get through this time between places
as fast as we possibly can. But as Danaan is quick to point out, but then we would miss out on the incredibly rich places that transitions take us, that these times of transitions should be savored and honored.
This is the place where our disciples find themselves.
In a time of major transition.
What do they do?
What they do is walk back home and gather together.
A broken group of 11, the replacement for Judas not yet named, plus the women, so assume the children, all gathered together,
including Mary, the mother of Jesus who is called out by name.
They unite again.
And they pray.
Devoting themselves to prayer our scripture reads.
Just like we’ve been doing.
Beyond our robust prayer ministry which has been going on for years, we are praying the Daily offices together, those ancient monastic prayers that are used to mark the hours of the day.
Morning prayer, Noonday prayer,
Compline… the people of Saint Michaels pray along with the entire communion of the faithful,
using the same scripture readings for the day, the same pattern of canticles and collects that are not only used today across the world but have been used for centuries.
We gather from our homes into the intimate spaces created by zoom rooms we come together with one another and talk and pray and share what is on our hearts.
We pray for the world.
We pray for our own needs.
But it’s time to start going beyond that.
For even in our sadness and unease of this time in our lives together, we, like those early disciples, we are resilient people.
We may feel scared, but when we act through that fear, we are brave.
It is an act of courage to envision what we can do next. This time has given us space to go inward.
What have we discovered about ourselves; what have we learned?
As we being to come out of this time, what do we want to keep?
What things from that ‘time before’ which of those before time things is it time to discard?
To let go of like a trapeze bar that we are done with. That is hindering our future growth.
We have been given a gift, my friends.
The gift of a time of transition.
Made more interesting by the fact
that it’s been a mutual transition, something that we have experienced together.
Even in their befuddlement, those disciples prayed and then they got to work.
We can do this.
As Reverend Owen said last week, we have not been abandoned, God has not and will not ever leave us.
God is sending an advocate to help us and guide us.
We need to ask the hard questions to God and then listen.
We have slowed down our lives to do that, to truly listen.
We are ready.
How can we love our community more?
Who do we want to be coming out of this time away?
The body of Christ that rose in that cloud on the Holy Day of Ascension, we are now that body of Christ, the gathered body where God is working with us and through us in the world.
Thanks be to God! Amen.