For the rest of the world, Friday was the start of a long Memorial Day weekend, but for a lot of students in Boone County, including those in PPM, it was the last day of the school year. There were lots of smiling faces in last-day of school pictures, as well as graduation photos of seniors and their proud parents.
I don't have to tell you that Friday was also a day of celebration for teachers too...after all, school is out for the summer. But for a few retiring teachers it was bittersweet. As much as they are ready to move on to the next phase of life, leaving their classroom that one last time is very difficult. And then there are those like my friend Teresa who teaches preschool in a different community. Teresa has a pre-K class and says that she becomes so attached to her students every year that she cries on the last day when she has to say good-bye to them.
I can completely relate to Teresa. Watching the preschoolers of PPM and the youth of the church grow up is a huge blessing, but releasing them as they do is not so easy. Yes, I am aware that they are blossoming and the transition should be a time of joy...and somewhere deep down inside, I know that it is...but it still makes me sad to see them move on to their next big thing.
I used to think I felt this way because their growing up reminded me that I'm getting old, but I've come to realize it's more than that for me. Truth is I am not good at "endings". I don't do them well. When kids grow up, when friends move away, when jobs change, when vacation is over, when programs end, when hopes and dreams die. The emotionality of saying "good-bye" is usually too much for me...so mostly I don't.
In fact, I've noticed the pattern over the years...like when summer church camp came to an end...when I graduated from high school, college and seminary....each time we moved...when the kids left for college...when they travel...even just last week when my time at the CREDO conference ended. I tend to not make a big deal out of the good-byes. In fact, some might even say that I avoid them...or that my endings are abrupt and cold.
Now I'm sure that there is a therapist somewhere who has a list of reasons from my childhood why this is the case; but I think the real reason is pretty straight-forward and simple. I just don't ever believe any ending is, well, an ending. I mean, there's always Facebook. I have Facebook friends that I haven't seen in more than 30 years, actually I have a few I've never ever met, but I can tell you where they went on vacation last year, their dog's name, and what they had for lunch yesterday. Endings aren't really endings if you can do that, right?
Seriously...I think I don't do endings well because they are painful...the grief is real. Every transition in life...whether it is a time of joy or sadness or confusion or hope...has one important thing in common. A transition from one thing to another presents a stark reality: once that moment of transition, the ending, good-bye...or whatever you want to call it...once it is over...life will be different. Things...situations...our lives...will never be entirely and exactly what they were before. It's not really about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing...it's just a thing and it is different.
All you parents who have graduating seniors, you know what I mean, right? Graduation is one of these pivotal moments...one with sadness and grief...as well as celebration, joy and hopefulness...one from which there is no "going back". So you gather yourselves together and look forward toward the unknown...with trust and confidence that this, too, is not the end.
Graduation is the obvious happy example, but there are many others - and not all so joy-filled. We've all experienced those transitional crossroads of life...graduations, marriages, jobs, divorces, distance moves, devastating illnesses and, god-forbid, major traumatic experiences. They are part of what it means to be human. They are inevitable...both in our individual lives as well as in the groups in which we participate...including churches.
We all have had, and will continue to have, those awful, wonderful, no turning back moments when we become acutely aware that the past as we knew it is over and we now face a new future. Good, bad, chosen or inflicted...each time, the challenge before us is the same: How do we move forward into that future...trusting what we do not know and where we cannot see? How do we simultaneously respect the grief of what once was and embrace the hope of what is yet to be?
That's where this story of the Ascension serves us well.
I mean, we can all agree that those early followers were living in a time of transition...life-altering...no turning back...transition, right? First Jesus is alive, then he is crucified, dead and buried. Three days later he is no longer in the tomb...resurrected to new life. Then Jesus appears and disappears at will...although not always recognizable even by his closest friends.
Safe to say they were starting to understand the truth of all transformation: what was will no longer be. For the disciples, this was the case in many aspects of their lives: in their understanding of God and their relationship to God...in their sense of where they belonged or didn't belong in the community...in their understanding of God's kingdom, in what it meant to be blessed. All this and more had begun to change for them.
So yes, this was a pivotal moment in their lives...in their faith story...and as it turns out...in all of human existence. But of course, in that very moment...all they could know was what Jesus revealed to them by his presence and when he spoke...when he addressed their fears with words of comfort, mercy, compassion and love. When he speaks peace to them...when he reminds them of God's promises...when he blesses them.
This had to be enough.
Now, let me just offer a quick observation about the relationship between the version of this Ascension story and the one in Luke's gospel. They contain very different details...but that doesn't mean one is right and other not. Instead, as Luke explains in his opening salutation to Theophilus, the book of Acts serves a different purpose than his gospel It is not about recording what Jesus did and taught, but instead it is an account of how the disciples responded to what they learned.
Acts of the Apostles, as it is officially known, is the story of the formation of the church. It's an account of how the earliest Jesus-followers went from being frightened disciples living in the chaos, confusion, and aftermath of all that happened in those last days in Jerusalem....to ones who were blessed and filled with joy, ready to be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The book of Acts is the "what's next" after the resurrection...but more importantly, it's the "what's next" when the followers of Jesus acknowledged the grief of saying good-bye to his physical presence, received the Holy Spirit, and moved forward into the unknown future.
As far as Luke is concerned...the Ascension is the hinge-pin event that facilitates the transition, which is probably why he uniquely records it in both writings. It's also why the story speaks so powerfully to us today.
The post-resurrection disciples were on this extended, emotional roller coaster...grief, joy, confusion...up and down..trying to make meaning of all that was happening around them...not at all unlike many of us feel as we experience life today. But they were also blessed with forty additional in-person days with the resurrected Christ...a 40 day stretch of transition if you will. It was the period during which they would begin to be transformed from followers to leaders...from individual believers to the Body of Christ.
We're told it was a time when Jesus appeared to them...presented convincing proofs (evidence, if you will)...and taught them. In the gospel version of the story Luke says that Jesus opened their minds to understand the scripture - which we can presume means to understand the old testament scriptures differently, as those would be the only ones they had at their disposal. The point is that Jesus spends this in-between time preparing them, once again, for another ending...this time his ascension...which would force them into a new future.
Of course, the disciples are quick to ask for more details about this future...which by the way, is not necessarily a sign that they were clueless. As a matter of fact, it was the natural "next question" about the Messiah's work given the prophecy they had learned. It's not a question of stupidity...it's a question of trusting the storyline...but wanting to know more about the timing.
And, boy, oh boy, is that not the story of our lives? Sure, we trust that God is in control...we trust that love will win over fear and hate...we trust that there is hope for peace...but we are quite anxious about what the heck is taking so long!
Still, Jesus' answer to them, and to us, is the same frustrating, yet ever-so loving, God is God and you are not answer. Essentially he says..."it is not for you to know. You don't need to know". "However," he adds, "the Father will give you what you do need." He promises that they will receive the Spirit's power to continue on...into whatever the future holds...and that will be enough for now.
Enough for now. Enough then. Enough now.
The Spirit at work in our lives is enough for now...not because it is all we have but because it is all we need. It is God's very presence with us...it is Christ at work in us...in a way we don't understand...but it is enough.
Seriously folks, we don't need to know when or how God's kingdom will be fully established. We don't need to know when or how or where Christ will return. We don't need to know a whole lot of details about heaven or be given absolute answers about life. We just need to know that while we are here...we are not alone. We, the church, Christ's body, are blessed with the Spirit just as those first disciples were...and that is enough.
Now let's be clear about something...this blessing of the Spirit...the presence of God the Father and Christ the son...all that Trinitarian stuff that we also don't have to understand...there is a truth that we must admit. The Holy Spirit within us is enough for now...but it does not guarantee a future free of difficult times, chaotic times, stressful times...nor does it mean that we will have one steady emotion of peace. I mean, gee whiz...think about all that the disciples faced in the early church...the persecution...the hatefulness directed at them...the martyrdom...the evil. That all still happened...the Spirit doesn't protect them...or us from pain and challenge. But you know what else happened during that same time?
The Church happened. Literally it came into being despite all that tried to rise against it.
The Holy Spirit showed up, words came out and more belief happened. Ministry happened. Community happened. Restored life happened. Healing happened. Mercy happened. Justice happened. Love happened.
And, thanks be to God, it's still happening. In, through, and by, the work of Christ's church, the Spirit of God is alive and at work...and that is enough for now.
Many worldly powers would rather us not believe God's Spirit is enough. They prefer we lean into fear rather than love. Life's busyness and our erratic pursuit of some elusive ideal works hard to convince us that it is not enough...or worse yet that we are not enough. Headlines about terrorist bombings...and the execution of Christians...scream it is not enough. Carefully crafted Congressional Budget Office reports, counterpoint analyses, and dozens of talking head legislators on both sides of the proverbial aisle want us to believe that it is not enough. Sadly even some Christians are convinced that unless the Spirit is at work according to their understanding, it is not enough.
Yet... as Jesus ascended into heaven...he reassured his followers that God will give his people what they need...and it will be enough. In the gospel account, Luke says after Jesus ascended the disciples returned to Jerusalem with joy. Here in Acts he says that they needed some urging from the angels. Either way, the promise of the coming Spirit was enough to ease their fears and motivate them to return to the work Jesus had started.
The same is true for us, even now. With God's Spirit present within us...we need not fear. We have what we need. It is enough. And by God's grace and his Spirit at work within us, we the Body, become enough as well.
God's grace, Christ's compassion, and the Spirit's guidance...it is enough...enough for all our pivot points...all our transition times...all the difficult and challenging days...as well all the joyful forward-looking into a faith-filled future occasions.
Whether in our personal lives, our collective community, or the history of the cosmos, the Ascension story reminds us that Christ is now with God...fully aware of our needs. It assures us that we have the Holy Spirit alive and present with us. It offers the promise that Jesus will return in the same merciful, redemptive love as he came. Folks, this is definitely enough...for now. for always.
On this Memorial Day weekend, as our nation remembers those who have died in service to our country...we, the church, remember too...not just the soldiers...but all the saints of our lives. Those who have served Christ by loving others...those who have done great things for the world....and those whose small things became great things in our lives. We remember and we trust the resurrection promise: their deaths were not the end...only a pivot point in life...a transition time until the future. And that, too, gives us peace and hope...which is also enough for now.
To God's glory...amen.