Dear beloved children of God, grace and peace to you from our Crucified and Risen Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
You would like to think that the two men in white robes would be a little more empathetic. Conservatively speaking, the disciples have been through a lot. In the span of 40-50 days, they have seen Jesus arrested, put on trial by both the religious leaders and the Roman Empire, and publicly executed. After his death, these guys heard bizarre and unsettling testimony from the women in their group. Some of them met Jesus on the road and ate with him. The rest of the group had Jesus show up in their midst at nearly the exact same time.
Now they’ve just seen Jesus levitate up to heaven in some clouds.
So, you would think these two men in white robes would have led with, “Hey, how’re you guys doing?” or, “This has been a lot for you to take in, do you have any questions?” If it were me, I would have wanted these guys to offer me a drink.
But no. These two characters in robes lead with, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”
It’s one of the more dumbfounding questions in scripture. I mean seriously. Why? Why?
Because Jesus just floated up to heaven, that’s why. As if ascensions into the heavens are an ordinary occasion, I mean honestly.
I’d take a real long look, probably with my mouth wide open.
Also, now they’re alone again. Sure they’ve got each other, but Jesus was back, and now he’s gone again.
What are they supposed to do?
It’s not as though Jesus gave them very satisfying answers before he took off into the clouds. After everything that had happened in these last few days and weeks, the disciples are expecting something big. They’re wondering is now the moment. Is this it? Are you gonna do it Jesus, are you going to usher in the kingdom of God, is the messianic promise about to be fulfilled? Is God taking over? Is the kingdom of Israel about to be restored?!
To which Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
In other words, keep your head down, do your job, and be patient.
I’m thin on patience these days. How about you? I wasn’t ever a particularly patient person, but this past week or two it’s been hard to come by. I find myself expecting more of my kids, even though they have even fewer tools to deal with than I do when it comes to the world being upside down and uncertain. I’m constantly reading updates on this virus. What are they saying today, how soon will we know something, what’s the next marker for change? Is it getting worse, getting better? Oh, there’s a second wave coming this winter? Super, how long will that last? Not sure? Great. Great.
The uncertainty of it all is just brutal.
Plus there’s the grief. Schools are closed, full stop, this year is over. Sports cancelled. For seniors in high school and college, this is it. That season of your life is over now, officially, it’s been cancelled. And you don’t even know what’s next. I’m sorry, so sorry.
And look I get it. I understand and I’m glad we’re doing this the way we are. I’m grateful for the encouraging numbers that we are seeing here in Minnesota. The alternative is far, far worse. I’m so grateful for all the people that are working so hard to keep people safe, who are caring for others, bringing meals and food to people, the people sewing masks and checking in on their friends and delivering care packages. It’s beautiful and heartwarming and holy.
But my patience is still thin. I can begin to empathize with the disciples. A group of regular ordinary people, who’ve been through a lot, who think they’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel, who for a second believe they finally get what’s going on, only to watch Jesus float into heaven.
So the angels or two men in white robes response hits me in all the wrong ways. Why are you looking up toward heaven? Because I want answers. I want clarity. I want to know what’s going on, when things are going to get better.
But that’s not what the disciples get. That’s not what we get.
Instead we get Jesus’ last words, spoken to us in his human body.
Jesus says to the disciples and to us, “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.”
Listen. You have that power. The Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus’ presence, the animating force in all of creation has come upon you. In the waters of baptism you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. You carry with you, hold within your fragile and fallible human frame the power and presence of God.
Jesus’ return to the Father in heaven doesn’t leave us alone. Jesus doesn’t abandon the creation. Not at all. As Jesus departs his disciples he promises them that he will be present in their lives in a new way, a powerful way. Jesus will be with them in such a way that their lives will bear witness to, will point to, the ways God is present in the world.
This is Jesus’ promise to you.
Of course, this gift, this promise, doesn’t give us all the answers or the timelines we might want. It doesn’t completely remove or alleviate the pain and frustration we experience in this in between time. It doesn’t make it all better.
But the Spirit’s presence in our lives and Christ’s presence in this meal we are about to share do give us strength and courage to live with expectant hope. We wait, no matter how difficult it may be, with confidence that this is not that end. We wait with whatever small measure of patience we have for God to bring to completion all that has been promised to us and all of the creation.
And in the in-between time we get to point to what is good and beautiful and holy right here in our midst. These are signs, witnesses, testimony of the resurrection.
This morning, on my way here, I was driving up Lyndale from the Crosstown.
I drove past Mount Olivet Careview Home, which provides semi-independent living and long term care. It’s a ministry of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church just blocks from here. Outside, somebody had placed a bunch of balloons and a group of letters that said, “Angels Work Here.” It was a lovely gesture, and I would assume probably meaningful for the care workers that are making themselves vulnerable to care for others as so many people are across the world.
But then I got to the F45, which workout studio on the north side of Mt. Olivet Careview Home and I was really moved. This gym which has been closed for the last five weeks, as all gyms have been, cutting them off from their only source of income, had posted on their sign, “Thank you, Mt. Olivet Workers, you are heroes.” Or something to that effect.
I don’t know why but that floored me. It was an incredibly beautiful sign of solidarity. It was a witness that we belong to one another. It was a faithful sign of expectant hope. It was a reminder of why we wait with patience and confidence.
God is at work in and through all of this. Jesus hasn’t left this world alone. You and I and all of God’s children have been infused with God’s presence and God’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us keep watch with one another with eyes to see, mouths to bear witness to and hands to join in the places where God is at work, this a day and always. Amen.