Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ascension Tears

Today was merely the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The Feast of the Ascension was on Thursday. But our priest preached a knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park sermon today on the Ascension.

[No, you can’t hear or read her sermon, for we don’t post them. It’s a long story. Don’t ask.]

Since I became an Episcopalian in 1998, I have heard priests preach on what a glorious event the ascension must have been. Glorious, indeed. I have no argument there. But I always felt it was a sad story – a story of being left behind by a beloved friend and mentor.

As Paul wrote at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (in what may be one of the earliest accounts):
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
And that’s it.

Jesus is gone.

I have often put myself in the sandals of Jesus’ friends and disciples. Jesus’ circle of friends saw their beloved friend crucified. They stood around and watched him die at the hand of a cruel government. Could I have stood and watched my friend die? Yes, I would have. But it would have torn my soul.

Three days later, they heard of his resurrection, and soon many of them saw him again. Two of the women encountered him outside his tomb. Several of his friends encountered him while they huddled in a locked room. The fishermen had breakfast with him. Some walked with him on the road from Emmaus.

They spent 40 days with him. The resurrected Jesus, back from the grave, cooking, eating, walking, continuing to teach.

I put myself in their place. I would have assumed: This is the new life he promised. Now he’s going to be with us forever.

But no. With what seems to me little warning, Jesus goes away again in the ascension.

Jesus is in the midst of a conversation with them and suddenly: “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

As far as I can tell, none of the gospels really tells us how Jesus’ friends reacted. Most of the biblical accounts jump straight into how they “established the church” and began to witness.

But I am stuck there at the moment of the Ascension. Had I been one of his friends, those 40 days after the resurrection would have had me convinced that he was going to be with us – that he was going to help us figure out how to do this “kingdom of God is among you” thing.

And when he was suddenly drawn up into heaven I would have been bereft. I would have felt more lonely than I had ever felt in my life. The crucifixion was bad enough. But now Jesus has left us again, despite my hopes. I would have felt pretty ticked that he had left my friends all alone to figure things out.

I’ve written here about my difficulties with death and leave-taking. It makes me angry. And it leaves me forlorn.

That’s what Shariya preached today. The sense of loss. How difficult it must have been for those people to lose their friend, their teacher, their Lord, the Christ. And how we all confront loss throughout our lives – whether the death of a beloved mate, the loss of a love, the loss of a job that fulfilled us, the move from a city we loved. So many varieties of loss.

I have had my share of those. Which is why I sat in my usual spot – on the front row, epistle side – with saltwater leaking out of my eyes throughout that sermon. My sense of connection with those friends of Jesus was quite powerful.

The friends of Jesus now had to figure out how to “do it” all by themselves, without their charismatic and inspirational leader – without the man who had loved them so deeply and personally.

From that moment on, they had to figure out a whole different way to relate to Jesus.

Then, we are told in the Acts of the Apostles:
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
So that’s it. We are left here to figure it out … just as Jesus’ friends were left to figure it out.

Photo (from St Peter Mancroft, Norwich) courtesy of this site.


Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

...and we're still figuring it out...

5/16/2010 6:15 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Indeed we are, my dear.

5/16/2010 6:33 PM  
Blogger JCF said...

I would think that, between Christ's Ascension and Pentecost, the disciples must have suffered from something like "Empty Nest Syndrome". You KNOW that your Adult Child has to leave, strike out on their own, for their own good. And yet you mourn their loss "at home".

In this case, Christ's departure was for OUR Good. But there was an "empty seat at the fish fry" nonetheless.

How fortunate we are, 2000 year later, to KNOW about the Pentecost that came---and that She (the Spirit of Pentecost) keeps on coming! Maranatha!

5/16/2010 9:30 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for your thoughts, JCF, but I gotta say: Had I been one of those apostles, I would have been suffering something way beyond "empty nest syndrome." I would have felt my world had fallen apart. We have the benefit of hindsight.

And I'll be honest: I'm a bit like Thomas. I envy those who walked and talked with Jesus. While I will celebrate Pentecost next Sunday, I still envy those who actually knew Jesus in the flesh.

5/16/2010 9:42 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

a story about the Ascension - Jesus goes back to heaven - the angels ask what is his plan - he says I left it in their hands. They say - that's it - what if the fail what is your Plan B? Jesus says - there is no Plan B - that's it.

5/16/2010 11:21 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Oh great, Ann. That's just perfect. I blog grief. You add a dollop of guilt. Next thing you know, they're not going to call us the "revisionist Episcopalians," but the Jewish Episcopalians.

I hope you hear I'm joking with you.

Seriously, yes, I've heard that one, and it is very heavy. Very, very heavy.

5/16/2010 11:29 PM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Although, I have two humorous images when I sit and try to wrap my brain around the Ascension.

You know how I like to use my "spiritual imagination" to try to think about what the event must have been like, in a cross between the Ignatian Exercises and the story-telling in the movie "Stand by Me."

One is after they all stood, dumbfounded for a long silent time...of course it would be Peter breaking the ice...and he'd look at where Jesus had been and go, "Where'd he go?"

The other is on the long weird walk back home, Thomas saying, "I'm telling you, he's NOT coming back. I don't buy it," and the rest of them going, "Oh, shut up, Thomas."

5/16/2010 11:41 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

There is a series of books - Thomas Covenant. The premise is that God does not break in to change us because that would break apart the creation - the demonic tho is always manipulating us to get us to do things. The books start out sort of dire but the exploration of the idea of free will is really good. IMO.

Another thing about Ascension - I love those icons with the little foot prints or the ones where just Jesus feet are hanging down from heaven. But John Peterson who was Dean of St George's College in Jerusalem says that what people there think is that he went into a cave -as those were thought of as places you could go out of this world and into another.

5/16/2010 11:55 PM  

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