By Bishop Todd Townshend
It is possible that you are reading this issue of the Huron Church News in “Ascensiontide”—that ten-day Christian season between Jesus’ ascension and the Day of Pentecost (May 21 to May 31, 2020).
Among other things, it is a season of disciples waiting for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. New meaning for this season is revealed to us as we continue to live through a season of uncomfortable waiting and anxious/joyful anticipation of what is to come.
By the end of Luke’s gospel, it is clear that the risen Jesus has used many occasions to come alongside his loved ones and to reach out to them. He has opened their minds to understand the scriptures, reminded them that he was to suffer and rise from the dead, and commanded that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed. Finally, Jesus promises to send the Spirit and power, and he blesses them as he goes. These events open the door for the second book written by Luke, the Acts of the Apostles—or maybe, more accurately, it could have been called “the Acts of the Holy Spirit with the Church” because nothing happens until the Spirit acts. Until then, there is a holy waiting and watching for what the triune God may do.
All of this reminds of me of a writing project in which I was asked to reflect on these things (Abingdon Theological Companion to The Lectionary, 2013). That work opened my eyes to the importance of the ascension of Christ. So often the story of Jesus stops at the resurrection and ignores the ascension but without the ascension of Christ and the sending of the Spirit there is no Church, no “body” of Christ, only a society of philanthropists and philosophers who remember Jesus and whose individual interests are joined in common. At best.
However important, this season is not easy to understand. The ascension is simultaneously the absence and the presence of Christ. Try to bend your mind and heart around that. In the celebration of the day we hear Paul (Ephesians 1:15-23) encouraging the church to see “with the eyes of your heart enlightened”. This is to see an ambivalent, ambiguous reality: that Christ’s body, the church, is the fullness of him who fills all in all. We ought not to put our hope in the church any more than God does, but the power of God is somehow at work in this ecclesial milieu making it a place where resurrection life happens. That is why the church will not be “gone in 2040”. It is still a broken place, but God has a hope for us.
In this season the disciples may continually hear Jesus say, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here . . . until you have been clothed with power from on high.” At the same time, be busy! Be faithful! Let your faith bear fruit. Live according to the kingdom of God. Desire the reign of God, for it is the really-real. While we do these things, and wait, the Spirit initiates the Father’s will and finds someone to clothe with power so that it may be accomplished. The Spirit will do this. The Spirit finds a clearing into which God can come to be seen, heard, encountered. Wait, stay, expect, be healthy and faithfully busy, if you can. The gift is to know the right kind of busy to be!
May we cultivate in our life together a humility that allows us to hear the Spirit and perform the Gospel.