Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 18, 2015
What do we do now?
We had been standing in the ICU, gathered at the bedside of the parishioner who had lived into his nineties, husband of more than sixty years. As monitors indicated life on earth quietly coming to a close, we stood in silence. After a while, we moved through the curtain to the hallway. The brand new widow turned to me and asked: What do I do now? It was a question asked on a number of levels. Will someone drive me to my apartment? Do I need to talk with somebody at the hospital? Do we go right to the funeral home? But I heard it, I believe she meant it on a deeper level, a question about what comes next, and how she would start her new life.
It’s the question of Ascension Day, observed last Thursday and yesterday at church. Ascension Day recounts the mystery of Jesus’ return to heaven, the dawning of a new chapter for disciples who I imagine looked at each other and said in Greek or Aramaic: “What’s next?” At one church, when I told this story to preschoolers, I took them outside to the courtyard, equipped with a helium balloon, a drawing of Jesus attached to the end of a long ribbon. In a decidedly eco-unfriendly sermon illustration, I let it go. With necks craned we watched Jesus disappear into the crystal blue sky. We watched for a very long time. Everyone was silent until one young student broke that mood with the question: What do we do now?
The Pew Research study of religion broke last week, with dispiriting news about religious observance in our nation since the last survey. A big drop, especially among Catholics and mainline Christians. For those of us who do this organized religion thing for a living, for all who give their heart to the church, the report can be a bummer, one more indication that we are entering a new chapter. It should make us all ask: What do we do now?
Though I find it a perplexing feast, I thank God for Ascension Day. As Jesus leaves his disciples, he challenges them to be his hands and feet in the world. He promises to provide the resources, the Spirit they need to do that. I believe we are called to express our confidence in that promise by doing and being what God calls us to do and be. It’s a wake up call for the church, for sure. But as I go around the church, I see all kinds of signs that the changes in our culture are providing an opportunity for people to think in new ways.
Here’s one in particular: I’m honored to have added my name to a memorial. (A memorial is a fancy Anglican term for a document, this to be submitted to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which will meet in late June. You can see this document online.) It was crafted by a fine group of creative, courageous and faithful disciples. It is a call to renewed focus on what is at the heart of our faith and its practice. If you want to read it, go to www.episcopalresurrection.org. You can sign it too. In the midst of challenges, in the face of an uncertain future, Episcopalians are making a commitment to move forward in faith, confident that God will not give up on the church. Sure, we are aware that we may have lost members. Sure, we are aware that we may have lost focus. Sure, we know that the church “has issues”. But we are also eager to follow Jesus’ commandments which are simple if not easy. They are to love God and love neighbor and in so doing to change the world.
Ascension Day is about hanging on to hope, when it might seemed to have vanished in the clouds. Now more than ever, our world needs that hope. Our world needs to know the love of Christ. Our world needs to know grace. Our church needs to show grace. You can be part of that effort. One way is to spend a few minutes looking at this website focused on Episcopal resurrection (the word resurrection means “to stand again”). Another way is to pray for the living, risen, ascended Jesus to put you to work in your world. Pray for the wider church. Pray for your local church. Pray that you will be led in new ways as disciple as you answer the question: What do we do now?
– Jay Sidebotham
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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