for the feast of the Ascension
Updated: May 26
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
What a heart-breaking world we live in. What an absolutely gutting, heartbreaking world we live in. At it's best it is beautiful and gentle and good and at it's worst -- at our worst -- just maddening, damning, heart-breaking.
This image of the apostles in the moment of the ascension has so resonated with me this week, this year. This group of well-equipped, convicted, loving folks standing around confounded by the moment, looking up to the sky wondering where their savior went, why he left, when he's coming back, this person who has saved them, could be saving them, will come back and save them,,, who is gone. This group of apostles who are wondering what do we do now?
You look around and you see all that's going on in the world, all that's going wrong in the world, all that's coming apart at the seams and my gut response is,,, where is our savior? Where is a savior? Who is going to do something about these things that plague us?
It's one of central matters of our Christian faith and it takes the form of all sorts of questions: Where did God go? Why did God leave? Why does our all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God withdraw from our midst? Why are we left us to work out with fear and trembling our loving our neighbor as ourselves? Why did Jesus have to leave, and even further, why doesn't God step in -- before the crucifixion, before the valley of the dry bones became dry, before Israelites were held captive in Egypt, before Cain killed Abel, before the snake goaded them to eat the apple.
It would be worth our time God's coming and going and coming and going, in Jesus's incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection and ascension, and it's meaning for our Christian lives, and for our struggles as people.
At the end of the day, my work in Fredericksburg is with people of all ages, but at the beginning of the day, it is with college students and with young adults -- people who are coming into their own, finding their senses of self, their senses of vocation, and in many ways coming into senses of independence that are new and exciting but also scary and vague and hard; vague and hard because there is not an instruction manual for how to be 19 or 22 or 25 or 30, or for how to be a partner or a parent, there are not rules for how to make a friend or how to be a person. We have to write those rules, experiment and feel our way through the work, make mistakes, learn from our communities and mentors. It is work that feels new in adulthood, and the feeling that so many people experience, that I have experienced, that you have probably experienced too (when your parent's car drives away from your freshman dorm, when you shut the door on your first apartment, when you're handed the keys at work) is that feeling of "uhhhhh, where's the grown-up who's gonna take care of this" and realizing its you... you're the grown-up.
Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Well, we're looking for our grown-up,,,, but I guess it's just us now.
That feeling is so real, but it is an imperfect image for early adulthood because we are the adult now, we are the babysitter. It is an flawed image because as adults now we know that the person -- the adult -- who's job it is to step in and take care of things,,,, does not always have our best interests in mind, does not always take responsibility for our well-being, does not always show up. We know that image -- real though it may feel -- for these Men of Galilee is imperfect too, because God is not a babysitter and the apostles are not kids. God is God, Jesus is teacher, they are disciples and we are disciples and their charge--our charge--is to be God's witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, to be witnesses of God, to build God's kingdom in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania and Stafford and Falmouth and Woodbridge and Richmond and to the ends of the earth.
Still it might feel like God has left us in the lurch to do this work of witnessing and building up and protecting the body of Christ, as ill-equipped and as uncertain as we might feel, but we know from scripture that God's life among us has always been alongside rather than over us. From the very beginning we have had the choice to honor God, to honor God's commandments, to respect limits, or to betray them, hide ourselves from God, eat from the tree. We know from our own experiences that the love that a parent shows to a child can be taught, it can be socialized, guided, framed, encouraged, but ultimately the child will grow up, and the love that they are taught, they will have to choose for themselves. Love cannot be domineered or coerced, it must be chosen. Our ability to choose love, to choose to accept its responsibility is what makes us made in the image of God. And our struggle to choose it makes us human.
It must've been a harrowing experience for the apostles to have their teacher, their guide, their savior with them and for him to go, but in his wake, they had their charge -- to witness to Jesus in their communities and to the ends of the earth, and to build up the body of Christ, the Church for the common good. It is the same call we share today. I'm a little less intimidated and a little more heartened to think that this struggle that we feel here today, this what do we do now? has been with us from the very beginning of the Church, and heartened even moreso to think that they were not left to their own devices. They had each other; they had the example of the person Jesus and they had his presence in the sacrament; they had the Holy Spirit, and each of them strengthened with their own unique gifts of the spirit; and they had their lament of a world gone mad around them, and God's call to act.
It is from that same place that we begin again today -- we have one another, we have the life of the person Jesus to guide us and his presence in the sacrament to strengthen us, we have the Holy Spirit and each of us gifts to employ in our mission, we have God's call for us and we have this lament,, the lives of children cut short,, grocery shoppers targeted and killed simply because of the color of their skin. We have our laments over these prejudices, this obsession with violence, with this failure to act to keep our human family safe.
We stand in this place asking what do we do now, and asking it in the presence of one another, with the example of Jesus with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with the gifts given us by God for the common good, with these laments at the very center guiding our work, I wonder what we could build. People of God, I wonder what we could build. I wonder how we could witness. I wonder who we could serve, and I wonder who would want to join us in it.
It is hard and slow and diligent work to choose love, to be a community, to give action to our lament, but people of God, if we choose it, I wonder what we could build.