May 21, 2023. Sunday After the Ascension. Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year AFB; 5.21.2023, Seventh Sunday After Easter, Acts 1:6-14

Sunday After the Ascension, Commissioning of The Rev. Katie Holicky

            Last Sunday morning as the rising sun was coming in through these stained-glass windows on the east, I watched the shadow of a branch move up and down in the breeze making the body of Jesus in THAT window look like he was actively ascending to heaven. I mentioned it last week because last Thursday was Ascension Day, one of the important holy days of the Church. And I wanted us to remember that Jesus’ Ascension reminds us that he promised to send his Spirit to walk with us each day.

This is one of my favorite windows. Jesus looks so majestic. And the disciples are so human as they crane their necks to watch him go.

            Jesus never failed during his life on earth and during his resurrection appearances to do two things: to instruct the disciples in the godly life and to reassure them that he will always be with them. His mission was to tell the world that God is love and to prove it in everything he did. He told stories, met people where they were, healed them, loved them, chided them and stood up against powerful people and institutions all for the sake of his mission: to call the people to live a godly life of love.

            And he reassured his followers that they will not be left alone to live this godly life. The Rev. Mary Lee Wile preached about that reassurance last week. Jesus promised to send his Advocate, his Counsellor, his Helper, his Paraclete, that great Greek word which means the “one who walks alongside of.”

Jesus promised in John’s gospel some of the most comforting words in Scripture, “I will not leave you orphaned.” During her sermon, Mary Lee lit a candle and placed it on her prayer dish to acknowledge this promise of Jesus’ presence with us always. 

            In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles the disciples gather together and meet Jesus one last time. True to form, Jesus gave instruction to continue his mission. “…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.” This is an international call.

Then they watched Jesus as he was lifted up in a cloud that took him out of their sight. You can see them all at the bottom of the window looking up. The apostles are staring up at him as if to say, “What will we do next?” Maybe they looked a little silly looking up like that – maybe their mouths were wide open. Maybe even…and I’m being a little silly to imagine this…that Jesus had the word “Paraclete” written on the bottom of his feet – Just to be sure the disciples remembered his last assurance. Anyway, maybe they really were feeling a little abandoned or bereft and insecure that he was out of their sight in this final “departure from the earth.”

            What follows is that this group of eleven apostles, possibly with their families, Jesus’ brothers, his mother and other women, returned to the room upstairs off the Mount of Olivet where they were staying. Jesus had instructed them to wait and pray until he sends his Spirit. And so, they waited and prayed.

If you’ve ever studied the Book of Acts, you know that it is a book packed with action. It’s called the Acts of the Apostles for a reason!  So, this pause is remarkable. The group of believers went to that upper room and ‘…constantly devot [ed] themselves to prayer.’”

This “pause” feels like a holy transition period to me. I remember a few years ago I walked over to Bowdoin to enjoy their outdoor graduation. One of the student speeches was about practicing what she called, “The Pause.” I was pleasantly surprised that a young ambitious graduate was speaking wisely to the crowd about slowing down, listening, gaining clarity. Her words reminded me of the practice of discernment. It’s the holy practice to stop, go to a quiet place and pray. Discernment helps us know that the Spirit is walking beside us to help us in all our life’s transitions.

Last fall, I was finally able to return to the monastic community of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA for a silent retreat. This was an important “pause” for me. The monastery guesthouse had been closed for the entire time of the pandemic. They slowly opened up for guests to join them in silence, worship, prayer and table fellowship.

One evening after dinner, I climbed up the steps to the third floor of the guesthouse, where there is a small library and a cozy place to sit facing the window that overlooks the Charles River. There is a darling chair at the window. It is small and has a pretty coral color. I was feeling sad for having lost a couple of dear parishioners whose funerals I had officiated. I sat quietly and just gazed out the window. I happened to look to my left on the bookshelf and I saw some artist paper. There were a bunch of colored pencils next to the paper.

At silent dinner a few minutes before, the brothers had played a CD of Beethoven’s 7th symphony. It was the third movement. Instantly, I thought of my dad who LOVED Beethoven’s music. My Dad was long gone. But that evening I felt him alongside me. That made me want to go to the upper room of the monastery and sit with that feeling. The artist paper and colored pencils called to me.

So, I picked up the paper and pencils and wrote Dad’s name “Bob” in the center of the paper. Instantly, my late John’s name came to me. Then, “Geraldine,” my grandmother’s name came to mind. The names of those for whom I had just led their burials at St. Paul’s came to me.

One of the last things the late retired priest Al Niese said to me before he died was, “I am going to be with the stars.” And so, his words came to me, “The stars are praying for you, Carolyn. The John Eklund star is very much present to you. The ‘Bob’ dad star is joyfully reaching to you through Beethoven’s symphony.” Even one of the martyrs whose site I visited in Turkey had a prayer for me, “Polycarp makes his hospitality and martyrdom known to you from Smyrna, Izmir, Turkey.”

“The pause” I experienced in that monastic community of faith provided clarity, hope, faith and even joy. I have to believe that the community of Jesus’ followers in the upper room during their time of devoted prayer, received their own experience of the spirit walking alongside them providing clarity, hope, faith and even joy.

Two weeks ago, Mary Lee, Katie and I attended the annual clergy conference. Catherine Meeks was our speaker. She is a scholar and teacher, an Arkansas sharecropper’s daughter who seven years ago at age 70 founded the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. One of the first things she said to our group was to share the character of Jesus. She simply said, “Jesus was focused. Jesus listened. When Jesus shows up the truth shows up. When there is a modern-day encounter with Jesus, you know its truth.”

Jesus is showing up in our faith community, St. Paul’s. Jesus is showing up in the truth of our mission of Intergenerational ministry – of all ages together. Jesus is showing up in our mission that is reaching to aid those in trouble, Asylum seekers, and those who are hungry and experiencing homelessness. Jesus is showing up in the work of racial justice.

Jesus showed up in the pandemic three years ago when we called The Rev. Katie Holicky to join us in our mission. Today, we are acknowledging her ministry with us. We give thanks for her ministry and pray for God to continue to inspire her ministry of love and justice.

Jesus never fails to walk beside you and me in spirit and truth, and love.  

Take a pause and ask Jesus what that walk looks like for you.