May 13, 2018
Ascension of the Lord (and Mother's Day)
You have likely heard some form of the adage that “faith is more caught than taught.” And, while teaching the basics of faith is important, the adage is, for the most part, true. And along these lines, recent studies show that faith transmission—passing faith to the next generation—is primarily a family affair. Our faith and religious practice are transmitted to the next generation primarily via the home and the family. The stuff we do here at church supports and enhances family faith transmission.
So of course, parents and grandparents and key adults at home and in the family play a key role in handing on the faith. And often times, the most influential among those big people, those adults, is mom. Many of us, regardless of our age, are sitting here today, at least in part, because of our moms.
Hold onto that idea, and I’ll circle back to it shortly.
Meaning of Ascension
Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. It’s an important feast, but not easy to understand. Paul, in our middle reading today, asks the question point blank, in much the same way a child might ask it of a parent: What does this really mean, that Jesus ascended into heaven?
Paul’s first pass at an answer, I find altogether unsatisfying. My hat is off to the early Christians of Ephesus if they could understand what he was getting at when he wrote:
What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
I confess I don’t understand.
But in the very next few lines, Paul gave me an insight. Referring to Jesus, Paul said:
And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ,
When I read these lines, I realized what it means. The Ascension marks the point at which the disciples must take up the mission begun by Jesus. As long as Jesus is walking the earth, the mission cannot be passed on. Jesus must leave, physically, so that the disciples can take up the mantle and carry on. With the help of the gift of the Holy Spirit, of course.
And that’s what we celebrate next Sunday. Pentecost. The arrival of the Holy Spirit, like a rush of wind, like tongues of fire to strengthen and inspire the disciples to carry on Jesus’ mission.
Ascension makes no sense without Pentecost. Pentecost can’t happen without the Ascension.
And so, like Elijah who was taken up into heaven on a whirlwind by a fiery chariot, and like Moses who was taken up in a cloud, Jesus ascended into heaven. (It’s how it’s done in the Bible!)
Jesus’ Last Words
But did you notice that in both Acts (our first reading) and Mark (our Gospel reading) the author makes an effort to capture and tell us Jesus’ last words while he’s on earth?
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth."
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
The direct quotes are not identical, but the essence of the message is the same: go out to the world and spread the good news. That’s the message Jesus leaves us with. That’s our call.
I am particularly intrigued by the signs that will accompany those who believe. Jesus tells us the characteristics. Those who believe will be able to:
Raise your hand if you can do any of these things. These characteristics sound bizarre and ‘out there’, but upon reflection I realize they are not.
Let’s take an easy one. “Lay hands of the sick.” I had the flu a couple of weeks ago. Laid up for a few days. Wasn’t pretty. Whenever I get sick, I flash back to a memory of when I was a very small child. Home sick from Kindergarten. Sitting on our couch throughout the day, my mother taking care of me. I recall a particularly intimate moment that sick day. My mom sitting with me and showing me how to write my name. She guided my hand to form the letters L – E – I – F. She laid hands on me, and it was healing. And I couldn’t wait to go back to school and show off that I knew how to write my name.
My mom also knew how to drive out the demons of adolescence in me and set me straight. I know there were times when I hurt her with my sharp tongue and sarcasm, but she was the one who could pull me out of that teenage funk, and help me see that the entire world was not conspired against me. . . quite the opposite, in fact.
And in raising four of us who were all close in age, handling creepy crawly creatures and serpents was routine for my mom. Drinking wild concoctions was also not outside her purview.
And when it came to languages, my mom always knew what language I was speaking. When I was sad and silent, she knew just how to sympathize. When I was ecstatic over my first crush with Felecia Rotellini but terrified at the prospect of calling a girl on the phone, she gave me the courage I needed. And when Felecia ended our 8th Grade romance just a few weeks later, she knew just how to comfort me. My mom knows all my languages!
So you see, the signs of one who believes, are not so far-fetched. Think about the one who mothered you, the one who loved you into life, the one who would lay down her life for you. She too, can drive out demons, knows your languages, and has an extraordinarily healing touch.
Finally, from my earliest days, I’ve known my mom as a person of faith. And while she never foisted it on me, she lived her faith genuinely. I’ve always known it was personal and important to her, and that was attractive to me. I am a person of faith because my mother has always been a person of faith. I caught it first from her. For that, for her, I am truly grateful. Thanks mom.