I’ve always imagined that – as they’re gazing up to heaven – they’re wondering – what now? They have just been through a lot. Three years, in fact, of a lot of intense experiences. They watched Jesus perform miracles. They watched as he was crucified. And they rejoiced when he returned to them – alive. Resurrected. And now – we get a little bit of what we call the “goodbye discourse” – and then – just like that, he’s gone. I know – at least – that if I was standing there, looking up, the turning in my stomach would be centered on “uhhhhm okay. What now?”
Actually, as I was thinking about these texts this week – I was thinking about how today (or Thursday, rather, when the feast actually was) is a little bit like graduation day for the disciples. Graduations are great occasions – and timely given the season. The graduate has spent a number of years learning something. Acquiring a special kind of knowledge – or special skills. And then – they are conferred with the degree, proving that they’ve been set apart in some way – that they’ve achieved something – or have mastered something. And then – many of us, whether it’s high school or college or a vocational school of some sort – many of us stop and think : wow. So. That’s over. And there’s this feeling – perhaps sometimes joyful – perhaps sometimes frightening – of – now what? Even if we know what we’re doing – and where we’re going – its still the beginning of a new chapter – and anything is possible. I think this is very much what’s happening for the disciples. They aren’t wearing cap and gown, I don’t think, on the mountain – but it’s the same idea. They have spent three years – learning from Jesus. Three years of unfettered access to Jesus. No – they didn’t always understand everything. And no, they certainly don’t have all the answers. But by comparison to the rest of us – they’ve acquired some knowledge in these last three years that is important. And that for the sake of the world – this knowledge – this story – must be shared.
And for better or worse – these are the folks that Jesus chose. That Jesus wanted to be surrounded by – so that when he left – they would be ready – and capable of doing a particular kind of thing. They have been prepared to share the good news. To lay the foundations of the early church. They don’t know exactly what that looks like – but Jesus assures them – they have what they need. That’s a nod at those of us that might have been reluctant from time to time about being thrown out of the nest – and into the world. And that’s more or less what happens when Jesus disappears. The disciples aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen from here. They know, in theory, what the work looks like that they have to do – but they don’t necessarily know how to do it. They don’t know exactly what it will be like – or, quite frankly – how hard it will be – or how rewarding.
So here they stand – on a mountain – looking up – wondering what it all means – and what they’re supposed to do now. It’s a normal human thing – that I think we all experience at least a few times in our lives. That urge to look up – and wonder. But what they do next is interesting, too. In our text from Acts – Luke writes – that they return to Jerusalem. And all of them together – begin to pray. This isn’t the first time in this Easter season we’ve heard this. In fact – if you’ve been following along – corporate prayer like this – when the whole community gathers to pray together – it happens quite a bit. A few weeks ago – we heard about how the early church devoted itself to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. And we talked about how this is core to being church. So, too, here. They don’t know what to do – they’re left wondering. And their first response is to gather together – and pray. And it is their prayer that leads them through the next period of time – between when Jesus leaves – and the Holy Spirit comes to them. See – Jesus had prepared them for the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit was really important. And that they needed to make themselves ready by praying – by fasting – by living the upright, faithful lives they had learned to live in their time with Jesus. And so they did. And they waited.
Now…since the disciples weren’t wearing cap and gown on the mountain – I won’t make you wear cap and gown on your way out today. But like the disciples – you, too, have been set apart. Like the disciples, you too have special knowledge about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. And – about what it means – from our own Anglican perspective – to not just follow Christ – but to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. You, too, have these same special skills to offer to a world that so desperately needs them. You have been set apart. And like the disciples – I think we all wonder about that from time to time. What does it mean? What does that mean God expects us to do? And how do we do it?
Like the early church – we return to our core. We dedicate ourselves to the apostles fellowship and teaching – to the breaking of bread – and the prayers. We gather to pray. We live faithful lives. And we ask the Spirit to come among us again – and show us the way. But the other important thing – as we prepare to leave this Easter season – at least until next year – is to keep in mind that for the disciples – Easter was always present in their minds. They were able to do what they did – because, in large part, they couldn’t forget about what Jesus had done. And particularly about the power – and the mystery – of the resurrection.
When we read contemporary texts – especially some of the epistles – these folks are stuck on the resurrection – in a great way. Because they saw how precious it was. Because they couldn’t wrap their heads around how great and how wonderful were the mysteries of God. For us, too, though the Easter season ends – as Christians – we should hold the resurrection ever before us. It is the light by which we are able to see all other things.
And in this Easter season we have heard a number of important things. Things to keep in mind as we pray. And as we gather. We were reminded in this Easter season about the Good Shepherd – about a Messiah who loves and cherishes each one of us. Who will call to us. And come after us. And who expects us to follow – by living faithful lives – by following the commandments- by loving and honoring each other. We were reminded of a Lord who goes before us – to prepare a place for us – because God loves us so much – that God wants to be with us forever. We were reminded about how precious we are – in the site of the God who created everything. And we heard stories about the many, many people who wondered – and marveled at the site of Jesus’ resurrected body. I hope that all of these things cause you to wonder.
I hope that when you think about them – they cause you to want to look up at the sky – look up at the cross – look out at the world around you – and wonder at the immensity – the majesty – the mystery of a God who not only can do all these things – but who chooses to do all these things. For you. For us. I hope that you allow yourself to wonder. And during this coming week – I hope that you allow yourself to wonder even while you pray. This week, as we remember the disciples, they were wondering – and probably worrying a little – in their prayers about what was going to happen next. And – for us, too, this is a timely thing. Both in our own individual lives – in situations that are all our own – in the lives of others – perhaps even some that are graduating. And in the lives of the people of this parish – and the people of this city.
But one of the great blessings of the Church – is that fulfilling his promise – Jesus is coming to us. And God sends the Spirit to us again and again and again. Let us, like the disciples, prepare this week – for the coming of the Spirit. Allow yourself to wonder – and to pray – and to dream – and to ask God about those areas in your life where you aren’t sure. To ask for God’s support – for those you love who may be experiencing their own “What now?” moments. And pray, too – for this parish. And for its work both within these walls and outside them.
Out of the disciples willingness to wonder – and to pray – and to wait – comes the ability to perform miracles – wisdom from God – the foundations of the Church – and a world that was forever changed. Allow yourself to wonder. Wonder and pray. Amen.
These words serve as the basis for the sermon preached at 8am and 10am on June 1st, 2014 by the Rev. Marissa S. Rohrbach. It is, however, not exactly a script – it’s more of an outline.