Ascension of the Lord, May 24, 2020
What happened? That’s exactly what the stunned disciples asked themselves as the risen Lord ascended into heaven. What happened? The story is fairly straightforward. Some 40 days after his resurrection and numerous appearances to his followers, the risen Lord left these men and women for good, with only a mission and a promise.
The mission was to take the good news of God’s unconditional love to the entire world. The promise included his presence with them until the end of the age, through the Holy Spirit.
So now there was work to be done taking the message to the whole world starting in Jerusalem, then all of Judea, Samaria, and beyond. What happened? The disciples heard the assignment, watched Jesus vanish from their sight, and kept looking into the heavens hoping he would come back. They looked so long an angel had to bring them back to earth, ordering them to return to the city.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and locked themselves in an upper room. They stayed there for days. Because of Judas’ death, they needed a 12th disciples, so they cast lots and chose Mathias. But that’s about all they did except pray. They prayed and prayed and prayed, still asking themselves, “What happened?” and probably adding “What now?”
Life gets that way for all of us from time to time. Wonderful things happen in our lives that really changes everything. Someone gets married, a baby shows up, we move or buy a house. Terrible things happen in life too. We get a diagnosis or bury a parent or lose a job. Life happens all around us. But what does all this mean?
This hunger for meaning forces us to remember, to reminisce. The disciples reminisce about all the good that Jesus did: the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of the lame, the walking on water. They can still hear his voice, and feel his touch.
We reminisce too when the unexpected happens. Memory raises its hand demanding our attention.
This hunger for meaning, though rooted in memory, is focused on behavior. Because something happened the way it happened, how do I act now? For decades you have cherished your parents. But now both have died and you have no one your senior on whose shoulder you can lay your troubled head. Or your business just seemed to grow and grow until new technology claimed your customers who no longer needed what you do the way you do it. How do you respond to unexpected changes in life? The answer is behavior, Christian behavior, acting like Jesus Christ.
Remember he gave us a mission and he gave us a promise. The mission is to spread the good news of God’s love to the whole world, and the promise includes his presence with us in the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that we should stand on the street corners preaching, but it is to say that we should translate the message of Jesus into our lifestyle, the way we live and act and treat others. When our comfortable little world gets turned upside down by the unexpected, “What happened?” should now become “What can happen?” or “What must happen?”
Like the disciples in the upper room, God sends us an angel to tell us to leave the upper room, and go into the city and do something. Do what Jesus did. Act like Jesus acted, love like Jesus loved. When the unexpected happens and our lives are changed forever, don’t give up, don’t sit around doing nothing. Instead pray, remember the beauty of what it was once like, and then pick up what’s left of your life and move on. Look forward to the beauty of what it can be like. Find something good to do, find someone who needs a friend, find a good cause that needs support.
Follow the mission Jesus gave us all and remember his promise. Jesus is with us always, he will never abandon us.
In conclusion, when we find ourselves asking “What happened?” we do well to focus instead on “What could happen?” if we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. When memory joins hands with meaning, all kinds of good things can happen. Amen.
Fr. Terry Hazel