When I was looking over the readings for Ascension a few weeks ago, I was struck by a question the disciples asked of Jesus. In our day and in these times, you may have some questions too. I do.
By the way, today in our readings, we observe the Ascension which fell in the calendar last Thursday. Scholars say that the Ascension took place right after the resurrection. In the Gospel of Luke, the Ascension is timed then just after the Resurrection. The person who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts is the same person. We know that. That’s why the author refers to the first book in his opening comment today in Acts. By the first book, he was referring to what we know as the Gospel of Luke. So, the fact that we celebrate the Day of the Ascension 40 days later is a bit on an anomaly in our liturgical calendar.
Anyway, I was struck both by the question that the disciples asked and even more by the answer that Jesus gave.
Is this the time now that you’re going to restore the kingdom of Israel? Is this the time that all the problems of the world will be wiped away? Is this the time that there will be justice and equity throughout the world? Is this the time that you will overthrow the oppressors of this world? Is this the time that you remove all illness, diseases and brokenness from the world?
Any of those questions would fit since Jesus had been teaching them about the coming of his kingdom. And the disciples knew of all the writings about what the Messiah would bring. So, their question was reasonable. And any questions that you and I may have also are reasonable.
Like, when will this Coronavirus stuff end? When will we have a vaccine? When will we be able to gather once again as a community of faith? When will an orange-haired politician and self-acclaimed medical expert stop spewing falsehoods to his people and to the world?
So, Jesus, “Is this the time that you’re going to usher in a new kingdom?” Is this the time that you will overthrow the tyrants of this world? Is this the time that you will wipe away every disease from the face of the earth? Is this the time that will usher in justice and equity throughout the world?
"Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" they asked. And Jesus replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his 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."
Not the answer you’re looking for, eh? And not exactly the answer the disciples were waiting for either.
It makes me think of what the Prophet Isaiah had said: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Jesus told his disciples, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
“But you will receive the power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” Jesus says.
There have been a couple notable times in my life that I have really felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I know the Holy Spirit is active all the time. But I don’t feel it all the time. You may not feel that all the time. Still, there have been a couple times that I most certainly have felt the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit.
One such occasion that touched me deeply and that I think I will always remember was during the sharing in our town-hall meeting with Bishop Linda some time after Holy Week a number of years ago. As I listened then to how each person present spoke about what St Matthew - St Aidan meant to them, I could sense the Holy Spirit in our midst. We were truly standing on Holy Ground. I was very moved by the experience. It will always be a reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit for me especially when that seems elusive for me.
Maybe Pentecost is not one isolated experience in our church calendar. We observe the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost, next Sunday in our calendar. That was the day to which Jesus was referring for the disciples. The coming of the Holy Spirit for the first time in our midst, in the midst of the disciples. But the Holy Spirit is in our midst all the time. Maybe we just have to be looking more for it. Maybe we just have to be open more to feel its presence. And maybe that’s what animates our hope now and in days to come. I think so and I believe so.
The Holy Spirit is present in the midst of our community even when we’re dispersed. The Holy Spirit is present in the Body of Christ – that is our community. The Holy Spirit is present and active in the minds and hands of those who seek to understand the Coronavirus. The Holy Spirit is active in how scientists are searching for a vaccine against COVID-19. The Holy Spirit is active in the wisdom of leaders to bring calm as we confront a world-wide challenge. The Holy Spirit binds us into one in our community of faith and in every community of faith. So, we’re wise to be pondering the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Take a few moments to ponder, to be in stillness and silence, maybe even while outside on these beautiful days when the wind blows softly just as the spirit moves softly in our midst. Take some moments to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in the silence. How is the Holy Spirit active in your life? How is the Holy Spirit active in your relationships? How does the Spirit guide our community? How does the Holy Spirit animate our hope?
Here is the message from the letter sent to the churches in the early days. I think it can set the stage for pondering, pondering on the presence of the Holy Spirit, longing for its presence and becoming open to its presence.
The author of the Letter to the Ephesians writes:
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
I leave you with those words as a focus for meditation. Read them over slowly and softly with pauses in silence to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. God bless you and be with you.