As a kid, I was sort of always sick. I can tell the big stories, like how one year when decorating a live Christmas tree with my family, I stopped breathing and rushed to the hospital. And the boring stories like shortly having to go every Saturday morning to get three different allergy shots every week of my childhood. There were also plenty of times wherein which I found myself ill and in pain and my exhausted parents would sit diligently by my bedside, tenderly stroking my forehead to provide what little comfort they could. And this is the memory that came up for me as I prayed through our collect all week long.
There’s something so holy in its honesty as our prayer for today draws on a line from Jesus’ final words to the disciples, “do not leave us comfortless.” Do not leave us comfortless, O God, but send your Holy Spirit. Today we hear the stories from our sacred texts of Jesus’s Ascension. The resurrected Christ has come back to make his presence known – it has been known in the breaking of the bread, in locked rooms, and through the scars on his hands touched by Thomas. For 40 days, the resurrected Christ has been affirming and confirming the message of his life, his death, and the resurrection. What we hear of today is not the joyous and miraculous beginning of the church that we will celebrate next week with the Feast of Pentecost, but rather we hear the story about how Christ told the apostles to wait a little while longer before they went out into the world. That the Spirit will come and will empower them to be a witness. As Christ was blessing them, Christ was lifted into a cloud and taken out of the apostles’ sight. There is a lot of things in our faith that don’t make logical sense, and the Ascension is one of them.
But one of the things that I most convicted about in my life is that I don’t have to understand things fully to be affected by them. The point of the Ascension to me is not just the miraculous nature of the event, but rather that Christ offers encouragement to the apostles. He lets them know that they are on the right track and encourages them to stay a little while longer so that they will be present for Pentecost. It’s as if Christ is saying, “there’s more to come,” or “just wait, it gets better.” There is a tangible sense of encouragement in the Ascension. It is in this moment that Christ is leaving the apostles for the last time, and yet it is a vital part of God’s encouragement to them.
This is the last Sunday of Eastertide, and I’ve been struck over and over again at how the message that has continually come up in this season has been a message of holding onto hope. Of course we hear that at Easter as the hope of the resurrection breaks through the darkness of that early morn, but we’ve also heard it in the Bishop’s sermon as he shared the universality of having an Emmaus Road experience. It’s been a continual thread, this idea of holding onto resurrection hope, and as we find ourselves between the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost, I’m especially struck with the idea that we do not find ourselves out in the middle of the gnarly, tumultuous world without any sense of comfort or care. And if I let myself ruminate on it a bit, I’m sort of overwhelmed at how mindful God is of our own needs. When I hear the story of the Ascension, this is what draws my attention more than clouds and men robed in white, is that God knew that the apostles needed Christ’s encouragement. Even though Pentecost was only 10 days away, God in Christ knew that they needed the gift of the Holy Spirit and that they needed a bit of a comfort before they went out into the world.
It is especially beautiful then, when we remember that God is mindful of our needs as well. We, unlike the apostles, are not a mere 40 some odd days from the resurrection, but thousands of years, and yet, God is still mindful of where we are on this day. Next week, we will celebrate with Christians around the world the beginning of the church, we can wear red and joyfully shout, but today, we stand in need of God’s comfort, and Christ promises to not leave us comfortless.
When we take stock of the world or our community or sometimes even the rocky waters of our personal lives, it is near impossible for us to not become overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. The needs might feel too big or too challenging or we might be too tired or too busy, but what I know and believe to be true is that God is not blind to our realities. For many of us our understanding of God tends to ebb and flow, sometimes feeling very far away from God at best, and entirely disconnected at worst. But what the Ascension shows me is that God is keenly aware of what it means to be human; that Christ understands how hard it is to hold onto hope. What the Ascension shows me is that God desires to support us and to help us in more ways than which we can be aware.
We are in the in-between time. The time between the Ascension and Pentecost, but this time in between these two holy days is not a time of disconnect and isolation, but of comfort and care, collectively and individually. When Jesus comes to the apostles and blesses them before he is ascended into heaven, this is the manifestation of his words before his death—that he will not leave us comfortless. These last few days leading up to Pentecost, I’m mindful of all the ways in which I really don’t understand the Holy Spirit. No matter how many degrees I have, I cannot articulate concisely what the Spirit is and does in this world, but the promise of the Ascension is that the Holy Spirit is coming to care for and comfort us. And words may fail when I try to explain how that works, but I can tell you that in my darkest moments, in my moments where hope was dim and I couldn’t see a way out, and I was tired and overwhelmed, that I was not left comfortless.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Easter 7A on May 21, 2023.
God will not leave us comfortless… just what I needed today. You are gifted, Becca, thank you for sharing this message so beautifully. Love to you always. ❤️