This is the reflection I shared for the Eucharist for the Feast of the Ascension, in the courtyard, on Thursday, May 9th. 

There are 7 principal feasts in the Anglican (and many other churches’) calendars.

You would probably be able to guess most of them fairly easily if I were to ask you this question, say, in a game of trivia.

There is Christmas and Easter. Easy.

Epiphany and Pentecost are also fairly obvious.

You might not even be too surprised about Trinity and All Saints’ Day.

But the 7th principal feast, the least well-known and celebrated, the least understood, the weirdest, perhaps the most hilarious…is the Day of the Ascension.

The day we remember the story of the resurrected Jesus being taken up into heaven like a rocket ship.

(If you don’t believe me about the comical side of this feast, please do take a look at the religious iconography of this story through the centuries, the artists of which, I must assume had some delightful combination of deep reverence and comedic instincts as they so often depicted this story with Jesus’ feet dangling out from a passing cloud).

I would argue that what it means for the Church to name these days as ‘principal’ feasts is to claim that these are the most important and foundational stories and ideas worth remembering and celebrating that tell us about Emmanuel – a God that is with us.

Ascension is interesting, however.

What does it mean, how is this a story of God being with us, if on the face of it, it is about Jesus being taken away, about his departure?

In some ways, this period between Christ’s leaving and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost mirrors that other holy waiting and in-between time, the time of God’s absence, when God-with-us descended to the dead, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

But in the Ascension, we see and experience a different sort of waiting, a different sort of absence, without desolation.  

Most scholars agree that Luke and Acts were written by the same author. And so, it is significant that this story both ends the gospel of Luke and begins the book of Acts. The author of these books could have chosen this transition to be the crucifixion, or the resurrection, or the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, but chose this story instead. This matters.

And so, we see in more ways than one, that the Ascension is a hinge, marking the beginning of a liminal, in-between time.

The Ascension story is the start of THE giant question, “so what?” “now what?”

Now that God is with us. Now that we have seen, in the words of Desmond Tutu, that goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and that life is stronger than death through the resurrected Christ. Why does it matter, what comes next?

In this departure, the followers of Jesus are not scattered, scared, grieving and empty like at Good Friday. Instead, they are empowered. Charged to witness, instructed to wait to be clothed with power from on high. They were not left alone and with nothing, but left with each other, with hope, with purpose, with hearts full of joy.

And then Jesus blessed them, and it says in the story that he continued to bless them, all the way up into heaven. I imagine this part of the story like those times I leave a beloved friend or family member’s house, and we keep waving to each other as we part ways, perhaps to a little bit of a ridiculous extreme, arms flapping until we are absolutely, completely out of sight of one another.

I like to imagine and believe that that blessing did not and does not end, even when Jesus was no longer visible, even when he went around the corner and was out of sight.  

For me, that is the good news of the Ascension, of this principal feast which I approach with deep reverence and delight. It is a story that reminds me ultimately that though Jesus is not here in the same way that Jesus was here before, God is still with us, God is still blessing us, God is still empowering us, sending us, leaving us one another, the body of Christ, leaving us hope and hearts filled with joy and purpose to be the hands and feet of Christ, to be and make known God-with-us in the world.

Thanks be to God!