Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just Out of Reach: Ascension, Year B

Reaching Out by Naunasse
This Week's Lectionary Texts:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

This Week's Reflection:
I've come to realize that the whole idea of celebrating the Ascension of the Christ has left me wanting. I haven't truly understood why there had to be such a moment for the followers of Jesus or, if he needed to ascend, why he walked around on earth for a while first. Part of me would like to cry out to God, "Couldn't he just stay here to help us?" Yes, yes, I know that we have the Helper for that and I couldn't be more thankful for the Holy Spirit and I truly feel Spirit's presence with me every day. In addition, though, I'm a physical being and would like to have a physical Christ to rely upon in the here and now.

The Ascension by Jesus Mafa
The lectionary texts for the Ascension won't really help answer any of these desires of mine. They simply remind us that Jesus lived, Jesus chose to die on our behalf, Jesus lived again, and then Jesus flew off into the sunset - or something like that anyway.

A friend of mine recently told me a bit about some very serious struggles her 10 year old daughter is going through. I feel deeply connected to this young girl. I baptized her when she was just months old and I promised to teach her the faith. She is suffering a great deal due to bullying and this suffering has led her to ask very difficult questions about God. For instance, she said to her mother, "Jesus should really come back to earth because whatever he did the first time clearly wasn't enough." In her pain, confusion, and anger, she speaks words that most of us have felt at one time or another. Where is God when we most need God?

So, this whole ascension thing has been confusing for me. I could really use a physical Christ with me now, guiding me, showing the world how to be good. That leads me to hearing Spirit remind me why we celebrate Ascension in the Church.

Reach by Garry Knight
I don't know why it all works the way it does, but I've come to believe that what these verses point us toward is a faith that is active, present, and physical in the here and now. Jesus ascended, but not without leaving us instructions to follow, commands to carry out, and help for the journey. We throw around those phrases all the time - "We are Christ's hands and feet" or "We are the body of Christ" - but have these phrases become hollow words to us so that a 10 year old is unable to see the physical presence of the Christ in the faith community around her?

I hate to go from such an important and heavy matter as bullying alongside the Ascension of Jesus to a mostly trivial matter, but such is how my mind works! I'm horrible about equipping my children to clean their own rooms. I mean horrible! Each of them can barely walk from their doors to their beds right now and each has been warned to clean the room before birthday parties happening this weekend or they will not get to go. But, we have been through this before. We will get down to the last second and there will be tears and shouts of how difficult it is to do on their own. There will be begging for help and in the moment it will make perfect sense to me to offer them the help that they feel they so desperately need. And, once again, they will not have learned that picking up one thing at a time eventually leads to a neat living space.

Jesus Ascending
The good news of the Ascension is that we aren't left all alone to clean up the messes of the world. We do have help. But, I've come to believe that the essential message of an ascending Christ is that we have to take those metaphors seriously and do the work of the Christ on this earth, to be Christ for the 10 year olds who are bullied and for the 50 year olds who are living on the streets. I don't know why Christ had to ascend. God's ways are mysterious to me, but I know that he left clear instructions to do his work once he had. I think that is why we have to remember at least once a year that this moment occurred in the life of Jesus and his followers - so that we will remember that we are called to be the answer to everyone asking, "Where is God when we most need God?"