Transition & Ascension – May 13, 2018
Transition. The experience of getting from here to there. I’m not a fan and yet like everyone, I transition at least twice a year. The experience is commonly called fall and spring. This year I tried to avoid the transition by going away on holidays in April. It was intentional on my part as I think… as I hope… foolishly… that I can avoid much of the discomfort of transition by just getting out of dodge. It doesn’t actually work… so strategy number 2: go out and play. I’ve managed to get out to ski and cycle alternately in the past couple of weeks. But even that has been awkward as I’ve been way too hot skiing and chilly cycling. The challenge is in what to wear… normal winter ski wear is too hot in the spring sun and normal summer cycle gear leaves me too cold in the rain. We can’t actually avoid the experience of transition unless one is prepared to ruin winter tires by not getting them switched out. So, probably like you, I’ve been working my way through the spring transition from winter to summer.
Our annual transition called “spring” overlaps, of course, with our liturgical and spiritual season of Easter. Easter represents the transition from death to life, which is undeniably good news, and yet like the transition from winter to summer, it can still be uncomfortable, maybe a little annoying, definitely dislocating. Easter is 50 days long because while the miracle of resurrection happens in an instant, our experience of it does not. Transition takes time. Over the course of Easter, we transition from betrayal, devastation, and grief to renewed belief, new life, and joy. Whether we want it or not, whether we’re ready or not, time marches on. Today we commemorate a critical moment in the Easter transition with our celebration of Jesus’ Ascension. The Holy Day was actually Thursday, but it’s so important that we transferred it to today to reflect on its importance for our life of faith.
It is the Evangelist Luke who records Jesus’ Ascension at the end of his Gospel and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostle’s. It is the key transitional story between Jesus’ time on earth as God incarnated, crucified and risen and the birth of the church… we who together are the Body of Christ and now have collective responsibility to be the presence of Christ in our communities and in the world. Next Sunday we will celebrate the birthday of the church with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today, we mark the transitional step of Jesus’ final departure, His Ascension into heaven, to be fully in glory.
Today we hear how Jesus “led [the disciples] out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” Today Jesus’ words to Mary in the garden on that first Easter morning are fulfilled. “Do not hold on to me,” Jesus said, “because I have not yet ascended to the Father…” Do not hold on to me. Today, Jesus blesses us with all we need, so we can let go, and wait with joy until “[we] are clothed with power from on high.” We cannot receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit if we’re clinging to what was… if we’re holding on to the past.
Letting go… allowing something that has already blessed us to ascend… is one of the harder parts of our life of faith. Our tendency to hold on is strong. Our desire to cling to what we have known, no matter how good or how destructive it has been, our desire to hold on is strong. We will cling even to a ghost, something that has already departed or ended, and pretend it’s real. But when we do, our lives and our communities stagnate. It was this tendency, this danger, that I think the men in white robes were addressing when they asked the disciples: “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Jesus has already blessed you and has now ascended. A new way of life is at hand. Don’t stand around longing for what is already gone. Do instead as Jesus instructed.
We have been richly blessed here at St. Andrew’s over the past six decades. At a meeting late last week, the wardens and I thought about all our ministries and filled a flipchart. You can see that page downstairs at coffee time and I hope you’ll be overwhelmed with joy at the number and diversity of the ministries. I also hope you will, as the wardens and I did, reflect on the ministries that have, or are, or need to, transition from one incarnation to another. We noted, for instance, the transition that has happened in our music ministry. We are aware of the blessing God gave us in Hugo and Adeline, in Nancy and Melissa, and now in Claire, to lead us in our musical life together.
We also noted the transition that is underway – still in the middle – in our ministry with and for our youngest members. We are aware of the blessing God gave us in the models of nursery and Sunday School and in those who primarily incarnated them: Susan and Aline, Lorraine and Cheryl, Simlie, Fiona and Paul. And we are aware of our continued journey of exploration to discover how best to pass along our Anglican expression of faith now, in this generation. One way we’re currently engaging in that transition is by cleaning out and re-organizing a storage closet in the lower hall. The work is still in process, as is the dreaming about how our space downstairs could be renewed for new generations. And so the work and experience of transition goes on… sometimes uncomfortable, maybe a little annoying, definitely dislocating… and yet in the hope and promise of new life.
At our meeting, the wardens and I also noted those ministries that are in need of renewal. As I have reflected on them since, I realized a common thread: women. In the broad sweep of our society in the past 60 years, we have seen huge changes in the lives of women. With that sea change, men’s lives are also changing dramatically. It is a transformation that impacts everyone and now we are particularly feeling the transition in the practice of some of our core ministries, most notably: altar guild and hospitality, particularly receptions for funerals and other parish events. Making coffee and goodies; pouring tea; doing laundry and ironing; setting up and cleaning up both in the kitchen downstairs and at the altar. This sacred work has fallen on hard times here at St. Andrew’s.
The old ways have already ended. We all know it. That ending was quietly incarnated here at St. Andrew’s this past winter as the Women’s Group officially closed their bank account and effectively ceased operation as a separate and distinct group within the church. That group has been a great blessing from God and it has now ascended into glory. Its end is a loss, and yet it is a hopeful loss. The end of the separation – the segregation – of women, and so-called women’s work from the general operations of the church… well, this is an ending that is good news. 60 years ago, women could not be wardens, or lay assistants, or sidesmen, or priests. So the women of the church did what women have always done: they organized to use whatever power they had and made themselves invaluable.
But as we let go of the separation of women from the organization of the church and let it ascend, we now wait for new life, new energy and new inspiration… the power and grace of the Holy Spirit… to renew the most important ministries women typically did: making coffee and goodies; pouring tea; doing laundry and ironing; setting up and cleaning up both in the kitchen downstairs and at the altar. This sacred work is core to who we are as Anglican Christians. Maybe the reason this so-called women’s work is sometimes devalued is because it is so critical. Without altar guild, we don’t have worship. Without hospitality, we don’t have community. Without these ministries, we basically cease to be church. And so we need to transition, working through the discomfort of it.
As one of a generation of women who has the freedom to be myself because of the work of the women who have gone before… my mom and so many women in the church… I am grateful. We are blessed by your presence, your commitment, and your faithfulness. Letting go of old assumptions, old ways of organizing, old expectations is not about disrespect or dishonour, but rather it is the legacy of work well done. The end of segregation means freedom for all: for men and women alike to follow whatever calling and gifting God gives; and for all of our ministries to recognized and celebrated for the critical contribution they make to our life together.
To the women who have made endless pots of coffee and soup; who have poured tea and laundered tablecloths and purificators alike; who have washed enough dishes and cut up enough squares for a lifetime… thank you. To the women who have stayed away from these ministries because of what they have represented in the past… or for any reason, may you be open to re-claiming this sacred work… not because it’s all you’re allowed to do, but because it matters so much. To the men who are gifted with hospitality, or who are keen and curious to serve in the quiet, behind-the-scenes ministry of the altar guild… you too are free to be yourself, and serve in any capacity to which you are called.
Transitions may be uncomfortable, maybe a little annoying, definitely dislocating. But the good news is that this transition of Jesus’ ascension brings with it God’s blessing. May we let go of what has been, so that we may be ready for what will be to arrive.