They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my
hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not
have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” While in their joy they were disbelieving
and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him
a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with
you -- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the
psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from
the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be
proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses
of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay
here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they
were continually in the temple blessing God.
My Friends in Christ,
It may have been Garrison Keillor who said that the Easter season is the time when Christians ask themselves two questions: “Do I really believe all this stuff? And if so, why do I live this way?” Perhaps that is why Ascension Day falls within the Great Fifty Days of Easter.
In our Book of Common Prayer, within Eucharistic Prayer A, we proclaim the following words, “recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension we offer you these gifts…” In the Nicene Creed we proclaim a portion of our faith when we pray, “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” I have to admit that other than The Feast of the Transfiguration, this is one major feast day that I often have trouble both recalling and believing … literally. I’m more interested in what these two major feasts teach us rather than determining whether Jesus floated, levitated, or rode up into heaven on some retractor beam; or if God, Moses, and Elijah had a conversation on a mountain with Jesus.
The life, death, resurrection, AND ascension of Jesus of Nazareth do inform and guide our lives, our ministry, worship, and theology. The Episcopal Church is not just a liturgical or hierarchical church; it is a teaching church because throughout his ministry on earth, Christ did a lot of teaching, especially in his post-resurrection appearances. The reading for Ascension Day, immediately follows upon the story about Jesus’ joining Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus. On that trip to Emmaus, Jesus opened the Scriptures to the two bewildered and yearning disciples. Ascension Day’s pericope from Luke occurs, as I said, immediately after that famous walk. Jesus then appears to the disciples and joins them in a fish dinner. There again, immediately before his departure for Bethany and to the right hand of God, Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures.
Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr writes that the core work of all spirituality is to “have three spaces opened up within us, all at the same time: our opinionated [mind], our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body.” If Jesus’ desire and the total of his ministry was to “open their minds” then I imagine that their hearts and bodies would soon follow in being released from their self-made imprisonment. I imagine that for the next ten days (until the day of Pentecost) the disciples’ hearts burned within them.
I believe at times I need this teaching, and to have my mind, heart, and body released from captivity -- to allow myself to hear the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. Don’t we who are the Church need to have our minds opened to Jesus’ Jewish roots, his culture and biases, as well as his all-encompassing love? As we are opened to this new way of seeing the world, we come to see Jesus in a new light. Couldn’t you or someone you know, and love, be the recipient of the gift of being released from the captivity of our own minds? Don’t we all yearn to hear Christ’s voice and the teachings that will release us from the self-made prisons of our own opinions? If not now, when?
As America begins to emerge from a worldwide pandemic and hopefully emerges from political turmoil, the world finds itself with many nation states fighting rebellions or revolutions (Kashmir, Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Maghreb, Yemen, Palestine, Tigray, Somalia, Sudan, the Catatumbo campaign in South America, and the list goes on and on) as well as this life-snatching pandemic. How open, how free do we want our minds to become where we daily live out, and not just read, “love your neighbor as yourself”?
On Ascension Day, as they prepared to head for Bethany, Jesus asked his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. This Pentecostal power is the same power we receive at our Baptisms, Confirmations, and Ordinations. The etymology of the word power is found in the Greek word du-na-mis from which we derive the word dynamite. As one who worked with dynamite in quarries and mines, I can attest to its potential and power. It is frightening at times to think that this is the power received by those in Jerusalem on Pentecost and that same spirit and potential power is within us.
When Bishop Russell Kendrick visits Trinity, Apalachicola on Pentecost, be prepared to reanimate the potential power of the Holy within you. I invite us all to prepare for Pentecost throughout this Ascensiontide (the next ten days), by receiving the Sacraments and by reading the Scriptures which may allow Christ to open our, hearts, minds, and bodies to their God and Spirit given potential.
See you in church on the 23rd and remember to wear red clothing
and/or hats that day, when we will have only ONE service at 10 o’clock.
Wishing you a blessed Ascensiontide,
PS: As Eid al Fitr began last night, I take this opportunity to say “Eid Mubarak” to our Muslim brothers and sisters.