Well Now What?

A Homily for the Feast of the Ascension, Transferred

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; St. Luke 24:44-53


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who has ascended to the right hand of the Father. Amen.

Kimbell_Ascension_Rabbula_Gospels.jpg

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re not sure what to do? Maybe just after starting a new job, or right after graduation, or you’ve just retired, and you’re not really sure what comes next. A time when you were left a little stunned, a blank expression on your face, with a sense of anxiety just beginning to creep in?

That’s sort of how I picture the disciples after the Ascension: craning their necks, heads tilted back looking into the sky. And one of them – let’s be honest, it’s Peter; it’s always Peter – says, “Well now what?”

After a year or more of following Jesus, hearing him teach, to say nothing of witnessing countless miracles, the disciples always managing to get in their own way only for Christ to usher them back with his gentle-yet-firm correction, and then the terror of the Crucifixion, the fear of those next few days, and then the overwhelming joy of Easter morning and the glory of the next forty days, with all of that in the not-too-distant past, it must have been such a shock for the disciples to suddenly be on their own again. Think about it – it’s been less than two months since the messianic parade of Palm Sunday. Peter denied Christ only about forty-two days ago. What’s Jesus thinking, leaving him and the remaining apostles to try to build up the Church?

A few weeks ago, as we read through St. John’s Gospel on the second Sunday of Easter, we heard Jesus’ words to the Thomas and the rest of the disciples:

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

From where we sit, it seems like it should have been so easy to be a disciple those first forty days after the Resurrection. Jesus pops in and out of the room, or appears on the road to Emmaus, and starts handing out the Holy Spirit and opening everyone’s eyes to fully understand Scripture.

Have questions? In pops Jesus to teach with absolute clarity. Have doubts? “Here,” our Lord says. “See my wounds. Touch the hole in my side. See that it’s really me.”

In spite of that, even with all the clarity that the Resurrection brings, up until the very moment of the Ascension, the disciples were still asking Jesus, “So. This is it, right? You’re going to lead the armies of God in final victory to overthrow our imperial overlords and reinstate the Kingdom of David now, yeah?” That sort of misunderstanding – especially after the Resurrection and Emmaus – doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence in the disciples, does it? They leave us wondering, “Do they really get it???”

And yet up Jesus goes.

We have the benefit of hindsight. We know that next week, we’ll celebrate Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that Peter will become a faithful leader, guiding the Church through its earliest crises, and take the Gospel to the heart of the Roman Empire itself before laying down his own life. The Apostles will spread out across the Church – Andrew to Byzantium, Thomas to India. They will face persecution. Paul and Mark and Luke will join their ranks and spread the Gospel to Antioch and Alexandria and beyond. The Church will endure.

But at the time, how were Peter and the others to know that this whole crazy Church thing would work out? How were they to know that their small group of close friends would, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, thrive and last for the next two thousand years and spread across the entire globe? That their rag-tag little family would grow into a big rag-tag family?

Suddenly, the disciples are alone again. Wondering what comes next. Wondering what they should be doing. Questioning if they’re in over their heads. I wonder if, after the Ascension, the disciples felt that same sense of abandonment they felt on Good Friday. Thomas stands there, wondering about the people like him who have their doubts. James and John look at each other, thinking, “Did he really just leave us?” And Peter is wondering, “How am I supposed to be ‘the Rock,’ the foundation of the Church? I can’t walk on water. Can’t I just go back to being Simon the fisherman?” They know their mistakes; their fear and trembling from Good Friday and that dismal Saturday, that’s all still fresh on their minds. And now they’re standing there, asking if they’re ready for what comes next. Feeling like maybe they’ve been left alone too soon.

Dear ones, here we are.

Wondering what comes next.

Wondering what we should be doing.

Questioning: are we in over our heads?

Because the truth is, we’ve all had that moment where we stare, dumbfounded, wondering, “Well now what?”

Every week, we hear the dismissal: “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” And though we shout back, “Thanks be to God,” if we were being more honest, we would respond with, “Well now what?” Brunch? A nap? Both good options.

We spend most our lives with the same silly expression Peter must have worn that day, wondering what comes next, asking what we’re supposed to do. We’ve all felt that sense of abandonment at some point. Wondering if we’re ready for what comes next. Thinking the weight of the world is on our shoulders. The feeling that we’re not up to the task set before us.

We are those who have not seen but come to believe. But I have to tell you, sometimes that doesn’t feel like such a blessing. There are times when it feels almost like we’ve been left to our own devices, without a guide. Maybe, if I were pull an example out of thin air, it feels almost like being in a small group of Christians, less than fifty of them, with a leader who’s brand new to that position, wondering how this whole crazy “be the Church” thing is going work out.

And we ask, “Well. Now what?”

Dear ones, we are not abandoned. We have been baptized into the Body of Christ, and in these holy waters, God has poured out grace upon grace.

We have been given a spirit of wisdom and revelation to hear God’s calling in our lives. We have been given Sacred Scripture, a lamp unto our feet. And we have been given the Body of Christ in this most Blessed Meal. Our Lord is present, guiding us by the Spirit and upholding us with the nourishment of his own Body and Blood.

So. Now what?

As the angelic messengers told the early Church, Christ is coming back; we know not when. What do we do in the meantime? We could stand around, staring up into the clouds. We could go home and take a nap.

But we, who are blessed because we have not seen but come to believe, are called to be a blessing. It’s no so much about what we do in the meantime as who we are in the meantime: we are the Body of Christ, sent out into the world.

So what comes next?

What comes next is that we go – no, really. I mean it. Out, beyond these walls, beyond this parking lot. Go into the streets of Macon, proclaiming Good News and reconciliation, putting repentance and forgiveness into action. Now is the time for us to be bold, to be the Body of Christ for the world. Our Lord has ascended and left us as stewards, representatives entrusted with building up the Kingdom of God. We are being sent out to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to care for the widow and the orphan.

God has already given us all that we need to be the Church. We have been given the grace to forgive as we are forgiven, to be the hands and feet of Christ for the world. Even though Christ may have ascended, we are strengthened by his Body and Blood. And the Holy Spirit is guiding us ever forward.

Amen.

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