"Rising" Ascension A (June 1, 2014)

Acts 1:6-14
So when the disciples had come together, they asked Jesus, Teacher, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? He replied, It is not for you to know the times or periods that are set by Gods own authority. But 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.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two people in white robes stood by them. They said, Galileans, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath days journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

John 17:1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Holy One, the hour has come; glorify your Child so that I may glorify you, since you have given me authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given me. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Holy One, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy One, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

***
Will you pray with and for me? Creator God, full of surprises, be with us as we seek to explore what it means to have you present in our lives. Remind that as Jesus rose, so too will we rise, in spite of everything--we will rise.

The world lost a gifted person this week--the writer and teacher Maya Angelou died on Monday. Her best-known book is titled, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," an autobiographical novel of her early years. She was honoured with many awards, honorary degrees, and the Medal of Freedom from President Obama, the highest honour the US can give to a civilian. Her work is celebrated for its honesty and truth, as well as its powerful imagery. Her life was very difficult, especially as a child, and yet she was determined to live as an independent strong, creative woman. With talent, grace, determination and faith, she rose above the trials, pain and struggle to share her voice with the world. One of her most famous poems is titled

And Still I Rise--Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

She rose.

Christ's ascension is one of the events that even the gospel writers seem to have trouble with.  They describe it happening in different places and at different times. Artists have had difficulty with it too, sometimes depicting Jesus as levitating, sometimes way up in the clouds--in one famous case, a ceiling fresco, Jesus' feet are all that is visible, sticking out of the ceiling in a 3-D interpretation of what the Ascension looked like for the disciples.  Jesus is described as "being taken up" or withdrawn or rising--as if he were on an elevator drawing him up to heaven.

So what do we do with these vague and uncertain stories of how Jesus departed from his friends? I think that first of all, we accept that we won't get an exact description--Biblical writers in general are not very descriptive--but we do understand that something mystical and beyond human language occurred. But in the end, the disciples understood that Jesus' work on earth was done, and that they would receive continuing help from another source, which would be sent by or from God--the Holy Spirit. No longer confined to Palestine or a specific time span, Jesus rises up to embrace the world of all places and times.

In Jesus' ascension, we see a foretaste of our own rising--with Jesus, we too will rise above. How, when, why and where we cannot say, but we will rise, too.

Like Maya Angelou, we rise above whatever keeps us from relationship with God, above our worries and fears, above all that has conspired to keep us down. We can rise above our struggles--with addictions, with relationships, with finances, with health challenges--we can rise above then because we know they are not the end of the story. No matter what is thrown at us, no matter our struggled and pain, we can and will rise above it, drawn ever upward by God's unfailing love for us.

God's love and care doesn't mean we are protected from the hard times or from sadness--but God's love does give us an anchor that holds us firm in spite of everything the world throws at us. God's love leads us through the storm of pain or struggle and upwards to peace and rest.

Just as Maya Angelou wrote:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise

We too can rise. In spite of what we have experienced, in spite of what has been done to us, in spite of what we have done, still we rise in the knowledge of God's love and care for us.


Remember this, my friends--Nothing separates us from the love of God, and that love draws us home to God. Let go of the pain or shame of your past; let go of your griefs for today; let go of your fears for tomorrow, and simply rest in God's love, knowing you will be lifted up with love. In all God's names, amen.

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