The Ascension of Our Lord / May 8 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Pastor Carol Kniseley / Happy Mother’s Day!
Yes, I am aware that today is Mother’s Day on many people’s calendars. And yes, I am also aware that many of you would not be here today if it were not at your mother’s specific request. You see, I know that this is traditionally one of the best attended Sundays of the church year only because when the question was asked of mom, “What do you really want for Mother’s Day?” Nine times out of ten, the answer was one that mom was just waiting to give, “How about going to church with me on Sunday?” When you think about it, it makes for a perfect set up.
At least that’s what the folks who put together the church calendar were hoping for. Today we are actually celebrating the Ascension of Our Lord, which technically occurred 40 days after the resurrection of Jesus, which would have made this past Thursday (May 5) the official day. But since none of us were here on that day, we decided to wait and celebrate today.
My only experience of the Ascension is from the ground, my neck cranked back as far as it will go, my mouth wide open, my face shielded from the sun by “the cloud” that is carrying Jesus away. Luke ends his Gospel by telling us that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy…and when you think about it, why wouldn’t they? He is still there…with them. And if they did go away joyfully singing, I have no doubt that it was because they thought he would be coming back in a day or two. A week at the most.
2000 years later, guess what…we are still waiting for Jesus to return. As Pastor Jim said last Sunday, he is not present anymore…not the way he used to be. Which may very well explain why it is the most forgotten feast day of the church year. “Who wants to celebrate being left behind?” If you were to ask me, the one day we do not need is a day to remind us of God’s absence. And yet, on the other hand, isn’t that the reason we all are here in the first place? Isn’t it because we have sensed God’s absence in our lives that we find ourselves now seeking after Him?
There’s an old saying…that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. I must admit that when someone very near and dear to me is absent…I become clearer than ever about what that person means to me. The quirks that drove me crazy at close range become endearments at a distance. And I begin to see the virtues that I overlooked and the opportunities that I had missed. And all of a sudden I know…all over again…what makes my “someone” special to me. Then there’s the other thing that happens during an absence.
If the relationship is strong and true, the “absent one” has a way of becoming present….if not in body, then in mind and spirit. The example I wish to give is that of my Father. My Father has been absent from us for almost 14 years. And yet, in many ways…I sense his presence. I can now distinguish “his walk” every time I see my brother walking in front of me. The same slightly slumped shoulders…the same fast pace…the same intensity of purpose in every single step. From behind, he’s my Father…all over again.
And then, when my sister looks at me with just that certain look…the impish grin on her face…the eyes that seem to dance with laughter…I’ve seen those eyes before. And I realize that in the eyes of my sister, I see my Father’s eyes looking back at me. And suddenly it begins to dawn on me…what makes “absence” hurt so much. What makes it ache is the memory of what used to be there…but isn’t there any more.
And yet, the good news is that you cannot miss what you have never known. Yes, there is loss in absence. That’s what made the Ascension so real. But, there is also hope. The remaining disciples knew where they would find the risen Lord. It was the exact same place that had found him at time and time again. It is not by coincidence that the disciples were continually in the Temple blessing God. We…have been coming here, to this Temple, for a very long time now. We come here because it is the last place that we felt his presence and for many of us, truly felt alive.
This is the point in our story where even we need to hear again the words of the 2 men dressed in white (obviously angels) who said to the disciples:
‘Men of Galilee…why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’
To discern what happened next, you have to read between the lines. On the surface, it didn’t appear to be much. As soon as they stopped looking up into the sky…and began looking into the faces of each other, they knew. In the days that followed and the years that ensued, it became very apparent what had happened to them. With nothing…but a promise and a prayer…those 11 people consented to being the church, the body of Christ here on earth.
And once they did that…the most incredible things began to happen. They began to say things that sounded like Jesus and to do things they had only seen him do before. They became brave….and capable….and wise beyond their years. And whenever two or three were gathered together in the same room, you could swear on your Mother’s Bible that someone else was present too. Someone that they could not see with their eyes, but they knew all the same that He was there. Just as He is here…in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine…and as familiar as the sound of a loved ones voice.
And that’s why we come to worship on this day. On occasion, yes, to appease a loved one’s request. But for the most part, to acknowledge the Lord’s absence in our lives and to seek His presence once again. A presence that we have known before…perhaps when we were younger and our mother led us to the altar rail where she showed us how to cup our hands in order to receive the body of Christ.
Now we come on our own…to hold out the empty cup of our hands in order to be filled with the presence of Christ. Do you miss him? Do you long for assurance that you have not been left behind? Then I ask you, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Look around you. Your mother was right. The church is the place to be…every Sunday morning. Come and see. Amen