The Ascension, Year A
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension. There are ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost. During that time, the Apostles and disciples devoted themselves to prayer, spending most of their time together in that locked upper room. Jesus had promised them that the Holy Spirit would come.
This was a time of intense experiences. Imagine yourself there: First Jesus enters into Jerusalem with great triumph. Then he is arrested and crucified. Then he re-appears. He is bodily present: blessing, teaching, encouraging and even sharing meals with his followers! But he is different. In some important way, Jesus has changed. His close friends do not immediately recognize him. But he is present. He shows them his wounds. He enjoys meals. He teaches, opening their hearts to the meaning of the scriptures, breaking bread and blessing, and then disappearing. During this time the resurrected Jesus appears and disappears, but he is real. This physical, incarnate, resurrected state lasts for about 40 days and then, Jesus ascends to be at the right hand of God the Father.
The disciples are all there for the event. Jesus is again teaching and inspiring, and after another blessing he is gone again, this time with a clear sense that something new is happening…again.
There is a pattern here: Jesus promises an important change, there is a time of expectant waiting, and then his promise is fulfilled.
Today we remember the final promise. Jesus promised that God the Father would give to the disciples, and to us, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He promised that through the Holy Spirit we will continue to learn, we will continue to grow, we will continue to discover the meaning of scripture, and we will continue to know Jesus as the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is an advocate to stand with us through life’s struggles. As we discussed last week, the Holy Spirit is a paraklete, speaking for us and encouraging us. The Holy Spirit inspires us and gives us the will to do God’s work in the world. The Holy Spirit allows us, and empowers us to receive God’s love and to share that love.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not just give the Holy Spirit to the disciples? The Holy Spirit comes from the Father. In this Lucan version of the story, Jesus tells the disciples to wait, prayerfully, for this amazing gift. The disciples receive this promise and then return to the upper room where they pray and wait, full of anticipation. Jesus has promised a gift from God!
In our own way, that is exactly what we are doing here today. We are praying and waiting expectantly for the gift that Jesus has promised. In just a few days, one week to be exact, we will have a party: A birthday party of sorts. At this party we, the guests, will receive a gift: The very gift that Jesus promised. God the Father will again give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. We can expect to be renewed, instructed, encouraged and blessed!
For now, today, in this service, we are in expectant anticipation. We are praying to God and waiting for the renewing of that great gift of God’s Spirit of love.
We are participating in the pattern set by Jesus. Today we hear the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We wait, with expectant and open hearts, confident that the promised change is coming. Jesus will be alive to us. Because he is alive, we will live. That is a great promise, but this time of waiting is important – maybe even vital.
Every time God or Jesus promise something new, there is a period of preparation, expectation and prayer. Before Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth we have the four weeks of Advent. Before Easter and the celebration of the resurrection we have the forty days of Lent. Each of these seasons call us to prepare, prayerfully and humbly, for the new reality.
Today, this week, we prepare ourselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Ascension begins a period of prayerful expectation. I think that this posture of prayer is vital to receive and know and celebrate the Gift of the Holy Spirit. I imagine the disciples, standing with their hands stretched out, ready to receive the gift. Their posture and their attitude of prayerful expectation form them and prepare them for the remarkable, wonderful events of Pentecost.
So, I want to invite you all to join me in prayerful expectation. I invite you to stand with me. If you like, you can put your hands out like this – expectant, ready to receive the gift – both in your hearts and with your body.
Let us pray. Oh Holy Jesus, you promised to the first disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit from God our Father. They waited and devoted themselves to prayer until your great promise was fulfilled. We stand before you today in prayerful expectation that our Father will give us this gift again. Just as he did for those first disciples and as he has done for us in your Church and your family. We pray that you will intercede for us and ask your Father to bless us again with the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit. We want to know you more perfectly, and to live in you as you live in us. We want to be the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. We want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we are inspired and even driven into the world to proclaim and share your love. We stand here before you with our hearts and our hands open. We are in prayerful expectation that the Father will once again bless us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. In your holy name we Pray. Amen
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
June 5, 2011