Bishop Todd’s message – The Season of Ascensiontide

(Transcript of Bishop Todd Townshend’s Weekly Video Address, May 23, 2020)

Grace and peace to you, I’m Todd Townshend, Bishop of Huron.

We are in the season of Ascensiontide, between the Day of Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, May 31. It is a ten-day season that we celebrate. I’m going to speak a bit about that in a moment but first just a couple of things about these videos and what’s coming up, and what’s in our prayers.

Next weekend there won’t be a Saturday video from me because on Sunday morning I’m going to be with (electronically) the people of St. Paul’s Cathedral here in London. The Dean, Paul Millward, has invited me and a couple of people from the diocesan executive staff to help lead that Morning Prayer at our Cathedral. So that will be Sunday morning, and on Sunday afternoon a video has been created by the ecclesiastical Province of Ontario to celebrate Pentecost. That will be viewable at 2:00 pm on May 31.

We also continue to pray . . . for everyone who is affected by this pandemic, and those directly affected by the disease. We are praying especially for the people in the Diocese of Amazonia, and Bishop Marinez. This past week we were able to send some support to them, financial, prayer, and lots of other ways—we pray. We want to be able to support them, as they support us and are praying for us. I thank those who have given gifts towards that.

We find in the Day of Ascension a really interesting story, a really interesting experience. When we think about the kind of roller-coaster that we are going through, the experience that the disciples went through in their relationship with Jesus can reveal all kinds of new things to us.

If we just think about their encounter with this person, Jesus of Nazareth: they met him, they were intrigued by him, they were drawn to him, they had questions for him, some were healed by him and, while many of the crowds went away at the beginning, they began to follow him. They recognized something in him that they were wanting to follow, to engage with, to be drawn into.

And then slowly, they realized that being a disciple of his was to be moving with him from place to place but, mainly, to be moving with him to the city of Jerusalem. Not knowing why he was drawn to Jerusalem, the folks follow him. He was giving them hints, he was making statements—and these would not have made sense to many people at the time—but there he arrives in Jerusalem to “Hosannas!” and by the end of the week he’s been condemned and crucified.

Then they have this experience of having lost this One who was to redeem Israel, who was so special to them, and they feel like everything is lost. And then three days later they encounter an empty tomb that sent them into a total ‘disruption’, at total state of confusion—in fact, it did disrupt the cosmos. This ‘empty place’ that had to be turned-away-from in order to hear a word, in order to be recognized by God and sent into a new creation of Easter.

And then, throughout what we call the season of Easter, there were all these wonderful encounters with the Risen One. Because God raised Jesus up from the dead, still with the wounds visible in his hands, he appeared to his disciples and followers and those in need ‘along the road’ in many cases. He went into a locked room to his disciples and breathed the Spirit on them and gave them peace. Everything along the way became new, and things that are new are things that are unknown, things that you have to trust, things that are very uncertain. I think that this has revealed something about our time. Everywhere they found the same Jesus was present with them but in a new way.

So now on the day of the Ascension, there is also this experience not only of presence but of absence. He leaves them again, he goes ‘up to heaven’, he goes up with a shout and there is joy and so on but I imagine that the experience of that was also one of pain and loss—a sense of abandonment. There was this promise from Jesus, I promise to send you my Spirit who will come alongside you—which was the only thing that could give life to them, and to us—but there was this period of waiting. I think about those ten days between his ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate on the Day of Pentecost. We are living through a similar kind of “ten-days”, where the future isn’t clear but there is a promise about it from God.

Since then, we’ve been living in the time-in-between Ascension and ‘Parousia’—his coming again, the fulfillment of all things in Christ—and it is an ambiguous experience to be living in this time. There’s absence, there’s presence, there’s promise, there’s uncertainty, but there is the Spirit. And we can know—from the patterns that we see through revelation especially in the scriptures but also through the history of Christian living—we can see patterns that tell us we won’t know exactly what to expect but we will know who to expect. . . and to learn again about what kind of God this is that we’re dealing with and who is coming to us.

One of the fascinating things about the combination of the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel according to Luke, being written as a two-book composition, is the how the beginning of Acts and the end of Luke’s gospel relate to each other. It says in Acts 1, when Jesus is going to be ascending, Jesus is saying to them, “it’s not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you’ll be my witnesses . . .” And when he had said this, “as they were watching he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight, and while he was going they were gazing up towards heaven . . . suddenly two men in white robes stood by them and said, men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up to heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go.”

He will again in the same way as you saw him go. Well, the question would be, how did we see him go? At the end of Luke’s gospel, the first book written by this author, 24:50, it says, “then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.” He blessed them. “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” He will come in the same way as you saw him go.

People wonder, people speculate, about the judgement and the coming of God—what kind of a coming that will be—well, here we have, from these passages of scripture, that it’s going to be a coming of great joy, a coming that could only be considered a blessing. Something that we can welcome, and yearn for in our lives, even now.