Look up, then Look Out

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Today, we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension. Technically, Ascension Day is celebrated on the Thursday before this Sunday because that Thursday marks 40 days since Jesus’ resurrection. Some churches, like ours, transfer this feast to today, because if not, the importance of the Ascension and what it represents can be lost. Similar to how we say there is no resurrection without first having death…there is no coming of the Holy Spirit without the Ascension.

If you are anything like me, the days and weeks have been blending together for months. But to begin to understand how important the Ascension is to our theology and our lives; I find it helpful to zoom out and orient ourselves in the greater timeline of the Easter season. The season of Easter is 50 days. Easter begins with Christ’s resurrection and ends next week with the Feast of Pentecost, literally meaning the 50th day. Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit came to earth and resided in the followers of Jesus. But, in order for the Holy Spirit to come down, Jesus first had to go up. The going up is Jesus’ Ascension. This timeline does a good job of telling what happened and when, but what about the why? Why did Jesus have to leave his disciples? Why did he wait 40 days? And what does this mean for us today?

Easter is a season, not a single day. It begins with resurrection on day 1 and ends with the Holy Spirit on day 50, but it is the journey during the days in between that make us an Easter people. Resurrection is important, and it definitely needed to happen, but it was not the resurrection itself that convinced the followers of Jesus to place their trust, their faith, and their lives in him. No, it was the time in between that solidified Jesus as their Savior and guide.

During those days, Jesus gave them what every human needs—he gave them the assurance that they are seen, they are heard, they are known, and loved. The stories we’ve heard these past six weeks have all been about how the disciples looked up to Jesus to build their trust and belief in him and in each other. This trust began in the locked upper room, full of fear and sadness, when Jesus appeared and granted peace. Confidence then built in Emmaus where he was made known in the breaking of bread. And belief solidified when the words of comfort spoken by Jesus finally made sense, “I am coming to you…the Holy Spirit will be sent to you and will teach you everything. Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

And now, the disciples find themselves just outside of town, close to the Mount of Olives. Jesus, while speaking to the disciples, was carried up, and a cloud took him out of their sight into heaven. After this happened, in Acts we hear they stood there, gazing up toward heaven. Suddenly two angels approach them and say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Within the context of their journey up until now, I can imagine them continuing to say, “You’ve spent all this time until now looking up to Jesus. Now is the time to live out what you have been given. Jesus has given you everything you need to continue your journey. You will have the Holy Spirit to guide you and give you confidence. The time of looking up is over, and now it is time to look out!

Your work is set before you. Look out and see the pain and suffering of the poor and marginalized that exists in Jerusalem. Show them the love that has been shown you. Look out for them and call out the systems of oppression that ensures that the less fortunate remain the least of these. Because you have looked up, now you are ready to look out.”

I’m curious. Why did you start coming to All Saints’, and more importantly, why did you continue to come? At its best, the church’s work is to the mirror the journey of those disciples during the days in between. It is the work of this church to ensure that every person is seen, heard, known, and loved. Every person matters, no matter what the circumstances. And my hope is that you have, and will continue to come to All Saints’ because you have experienced this kind of Christian love—a movement of the Holy Spirit that enables you to see Christ in us, and, in turn, see Christ in yourself.

But also like the disciples of Easter, this is not where our work stops. We do this work so that those who do not feel seen, heard, known, or loved are not forgotten. As the phrase from Eucharistic Prayer C states, we do not worship in this community for solace only, but also for strength—not simply for pardon, but also renewal!

This pandemic has created challenging times for everyone. Many have felt isolated, alone, scared, and powerless. More so than most years, this Easter season in our community, we have focused on helping people stay connected—wanting the members of our community to know they are not forgotten…that are known and loved by us and their God. From organized phone calls, to email chains, to meal deliveries, to support groups, I pray you all feel the love, because it is there. During our own time of the in between—our time of looking up—I know we, as a community, are strong, and I pray you feel that strength, as well.

With this strength, comes the time to continue to look out. But in this time pandemic, how? We are used to getting on buses that have taken us to D.C. or Lawndale, doing the important work of looking out, but it seems like everything has changed. This is true, but just because we are in a time of pandemic does not mean the work must cease. Unfortunately, quite the opposite is true. If there was any doubt of the injustices that exist in our society, those negatively affected by this pandemic have highlighted those injustices and made them known.

As a loving Christian community, we need to continue to make it known that we see and hear the communities of color who are drastically disproportionately affected by this virus, and we know of the systems of racism and economic inequality that make this possible. As a loving Christian community, we see and hear the need of those who no longer can afford food because they have lost their job. As a loving Christian community, we know of our own privilege and the power it gives us, and that power is not to be stockpiled but used to lift up the powerless.

After spending time looking up to Jesus, Ascension is the day the disciples knew they were seen, known, and loved. With this truth, nothing was going to stop them from then looking out. The reality is with restrictions of social distancing, things have changed. We no longer can pack those buses, showing up in large numbers to add to massive crowds with shouts of change and solidarity. But just like the disciples in our Acts lesson this morning, I truly believe that we currently have all that we need.

I don’t know a direct path forward, but I believe that the wisdom, creativity, and innovation that it will require exists—if not here in the community already, very close. But we have to believe. We have to believe that the Holy Spirit is working in this place and when we have each other, we have Jesus in our midst.

Thankfully, we’ve already seen a glimpse of the creativity and passion needed to continue this work. Ravenswood Community Services and the way they operate looks very different now, but with collective wisdom and motivation, the hungry continue to be fed. Also, a pandemic was not going to stop the anti-racist work of those participating in our Speak Up training, making the collective decision to continue to meet via Zoom rather than in person. To date, almost 50 All Saints’ parishioners have completed the training. The passion for justice that is exhibited here is the work that needs to continue and build in the coming days.

This has been no ordinary Easter, but it has been a time in between—a time of looking up. You may still be tired, or weary, or uncertain what the future holds, but hopefully you do feel seen, heard, known, and loved. With Pentecost right around the corner, with the work waiting there for us, I trust that the love this community has accumulated all we need to move beyond staring at the clouds and continue doing God’s holy work. The work of moving from looking up to looking out.