The Sunday Sermon: The Sunday after the Ascension A.D. 2014
+ IN the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
When I was in second or third grade, I remember being at my best friend’s house. Across the hall from his bedroom, there was a room his parents used as an office. On a shelf in that room was one of those glass fishbowls that said something like “Florida Fund.” It was how his parents were saving money so that they could escape the harsh New York winters and move down to the promised land of hurricanes and deadly spiders.
The thought of my best friend moving away was heart breaking. I remember believing it would never happen. My best friend, I thought, would never go away. The next year, though, the glass fish bowl had been filled to the brim, and it did happen. He and his family did move away.
It was so long ago, and I was so young, I don’t really know how I felt about his move to Florida. But, what I can say for sure is that I was sad and that his departure changed the shape of my life. You see, no longer would I wake up and wait around the telephone until 9 a.m. when I was allowed to call and go over. No longer could I jump on my bike after my homework was finished and ride up the road to play in the back yard until dark when I had to be home. No more would weekends be spent getting into mischief around the neighborhood.
I had to find a new shape for my life, a new way of organizing my existence from day to day. Now, obviously, I didn’t see it that way back then. I was just sad. I was trying, no doubt, to figure out how to cope with the loss of my friend.
We have all probably experienced something like this in life. And I think that this experience of my friend moving away is not unlike the situation that Jesus’ disciples experienced and not unlike the situation that you and I are experiencing liturgically here in church today. What do I mean?
Through out these last 40 plus days, you and I have been involved in a dramatic re-telling and re-living of the experiences of Jesus first followers, those disciples whom he gathered around himself during his earthly ministry.
We have entered in heart and mind, that is to say, emotionally and spiritually, into the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection. We are ourselves present within the world of that story – not with our bodies, but really and truly with our hearts and minds, so that the power of those events might become real to you and to me. So that we might not be simply readers of what happened, but in a real way be partakers of those events.
And we are mindful, of course, that in these events, Jesus dramatically changed his relationship with those whom he had gathered to himself. In a very close, intimate, and loving moment with them at the last supper, he told them “No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.”
And so, you and I participate in the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection as though we were really there. And we do so, not just as disciples that is, students of Jesus’ teachings, but as his friends, people who he truly loves and who truly love him.
So today, the Sunday after the Ascension, we enter into the story again, and we hear Jesus’ words not as words spoken long ago to another group of people, but as words spoken today, to you and to me.
Jesus’ departure from this world to his Father’s throne would change the lives of his friends and disciple, just as much as his earthly ministry had changed their lives. It would change everything for them. Their master, their teacher, their lord, their friend, would no longer be visibly present with them. They wouldn’t go walking from town to town with him as they had before. They wouldn’t see him heal the sick and make the lame to walk, as they had before. They wouldn’t find him waiting on the shore by a charcoal fire ready to cook lunch with them as he had before.
Jesus had fulfilled his mission, which as he tells us in the Gospel today, was to glorify his Father’s name by making his Father known in the world. He had made him known, and now, it was time to depart. For his friends this meant that a new way of living would have to be found. We might go so far as to say that a new existence would have to be carved out among the turmoil and tribulation in a world which would not have him in it the way he had been up to that moment.
Peter wrote his first letter, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” I have no doubt that Peter we writing not from an abstract philosophical point of view, but from the experience of his own anxiety and fears. No doubt, Peter felt a tremendous fear and anxiety when his friend and Lord departed this world and he had to find a new pattern of living.
I doubt my friend eddie, at the age of 8 had any real sense of how his family’s move to florida would effect me. And even if he did, I doubt that he could have really prepared me for that day when I woke up and his house up the street was empty.
But Jesus did know how his departure from this world would effect us, words that we hear Jesus speaking to us today are words that prepared his disciples and you and me for his departure to the right hand of God in heaven. He has indeed gone up on high, and he has truly led captivity captive. He has ascended to the Father, to prepare a place for you and me and for all who would believe in his name and walk the road that leads to eternal life. And he has promised that he would return again. That’s our hope, that’s very foundation of our faith.
And part of that hope and faith is that he promised to be with us always even to the end of time. And he has also promised not to leave us with out a comforter to guide us and lead us through this world. That word, comforter – when I hear it, I generally think of that big fluffy thing on my bed. But that’s not what Jesus meant. Comfort comes from the latin – cum forti – with strength – Jesus promised to send us one to strengthen us to live in this world, to help us shape and pattern our lives so that we can indeed walk the path that leads to him.
That comforter is the Holy Spirit. And today, on this Sunday after the Ascension, we enter into that part of the story of Jesus’ disciples and friends, when they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them – indeed to empower them to live the life that Jesus had won for them in his victory over death.
When my friend left for Florida, I was heart broken because I didn’t know if I would ever see him again. In those days after Jesus’ ascension, I can’t help but think that his friends felt the same way. All they had were the promises he had made to them. They had to wait until the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was sent down upon them and his promise was fulfilled. Those days in between, though, must have been days filled with hope and expectation.
You and I also live in days of great hope and expectation. The difference, though, is that you and I have indeed received the Holy Spirit that strengthens and empowers us to shape our lives according to his commandments so that we might walk the narrow path that leads to eternal life.
Next Sunday, on Pentecost, we’re going to celebrate that fact. We’re going to rejoice that the Holy Spirit has come upon us, to comfort us and empower us, until the day when Christ shall come again in the Glory of his Father with the Holy Angels. But for today, we enter in heart and mind, into the promise of our Lord and the hope of those first saints, who awaited that heavenly gift.