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Acts 1:1-11

Sunday After Ascension, May 12, 2024

Holy Trinity Cathedral


“Ready to Launch”


We are ready to launch!  That’s the message today between gospel of Luke and its sequel, the book of the Acts of the Apostles.  Both of these readings describe the last words and action of the resurrected Jesus as he ascends into heaven.  As Christ rises into glory, things are looking up.  His followers are looking up as well.   Actually, they have to be reminded not to stand around gawking: they have a mission.  And we do too.  Jesus goes up so that we can go outward to witness. The early Church would have never got off the ground if Jesus didn’t.


This story shows Jesus’ chosen circle experiencing some separation anxiety. 

A brief recap:

They had seen their Lord and Master crucified, dead, and buried in a tomb.  After three days, he rose from the dead and appeared to them. They saw him, spoke to him, touched him, ate with him.  He was truly alive again.  Different, yes- but real.  But just when they thought they were getting front row seats to God’s restoration of the kingdom of Israel, Christ surprises them again.  He says that the real power will come to them from him.  He must go so that the Holy Spirit can come and fill them.  No longer will they have Jesus in the flesh.  Instead, he will be with them to the end of the age through the Spirit.  They have graduated from being disciples- those who submit to a teacher.  Now they are apostles- those who are sent to teach and witness.  So why does it feel like Jesus is leaving the building and they are being pushed out on their own into the world? 


Our human journey is a series of separations through which we learn who we are.  Before birth, a baby in the womb is one with the mother.  They share a body and presence.  Then comes the water breaking, the movement outward.  The umbilical cord is cut and the one becomes two.  That moment marks only the first of many steps of growth.  The first food apart from a mother’s milk; the first steps when a toddler becomes mobile; the first day away at daycare or school; the first bicycle and the first banged knee from the first fall off the bike.  All the way along, parents and caregivers have to try to love and teach what they are able, then allow their child the opportunity to triumph and fail.  To trust enough to let go is difficult, especially knowing the possibility that your child may get hurt or make the wrong choice.  But if a mother or father never allowed a child to work towards self-identity, how would we grow up? 


On the other side, however, having a parent or mentor stepping back can feel like abandonment.  Our anxiety goes up.  “I can’t do it”, “it’s too hard”, “not on my own!” we wail.  In spite of preparation and practice and anticipation, the moment when we have to be the adult in the room is scary.  It’s easy to turn back into the child whose hand has slipped from a parent’s grasp and is lost in the crowd.  We are frozen into inaction.  No wonder the followers of Jesus are standing around peering up at the sky.  In spite of the three years they had spent with their Master, in spite of the post-resurrection experiences, they don’t feel  prepared for this stage in separation.  Good thing that God knows better.  He’s got this.


The apostles need to be willing to let go of the idea that Jesus is going to be hanging around with them in the flesh.  They see him going upwards to heaven.  And in return, faith is leading them to a deeper understanding.  Maybe He will be with them in a new way.  This is the One, after all, whose love has conquered death and time and space.   He has promised that power of love will come to them.  Why panic about a little physical separation?  If he thinks they are almost ready to do the work of apostles, maybe they can trust the Holy Spirit of Jesus to power them up to launch. 


We each learn by trying, failing, and getting up again.  In that process, someone who truly loves us gives us courage without taking control from us.  Because of the support and encouragement we receive, we still feel connected to them when they are not physically with us.  Even if they live on the other side of the world- even after they die- their love stays with us.  That knowing goes beyond our five senses- touch and taste and sight and sound and scent.  It is an inner knowing – a sixth sense by faith.  The end of the story of the earthly Jesus is the beginning of the story of the risen and ascended Christ.  It marks the launch pad of the story of the Church.  When Jesus goes up, he provides the momentum for those first apostles to be fueled into action.  They are now ready for the Holy Spirit to ignite their gifts and proclaim the good news. 


Every generation of Christians after this never got to see or hear or walk with the earthly Jesus, like those apostles did.  We are separated from the events across the centuries and miles.  But because of the ascension, all believers everywhere have the same connection to Jesus Christ.  He has not abandoned us.  God’s love is present and surrounds us with His Spirit. Now God trusts us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Amen.