The Ascension of Our Lord
by Laurie Gudim
When my church discerned that it was time to let go of our Rite I Eucharist, I grieved. It wasn’t that I want to use that language and gesture in services any more. Though I fondly remember and cherish it as my entry into the Episcopal way of worshiping God, it no longer reflects how I want to pray.
No, I mourned because this transition marked the beginning of a shift in how we do church in my community. The comfortable and closed little congregation, diminishing in size and energy, that had up until now gathered at 7:30 am every Sunday for “Rite I, no music” had been broken open. The prayers they had repeated their entire lives were gone. They had lost something they cherished profoundly. And because I cherish them, I sorrowed.
At Jesus’ Ascension, the disciples had to make the shift from being the chosen people that followed the beloved Master to becoming apostles with their own authority, going out into the world to proclaim the Good News. Changing hearts, then baptizing and ordering a new community, replaced witnessing miracles and pondering teachings. They had to let go of everything they cherished and become something brand new. And the demand for their transformation didn’t stop that day. Kicked out of their synagogues, they would lose their religious identity. They would make bonds of love and common commitment with unclean foreigners. They would journey to strange lands – and suffer and die there.
Our most deeply held convictions, the very heart of the way we understand God, can become an obstacle to God’s work through us. Our most holy practices can become false idols. The Way of Christ is a trail that veers in unexpected directions and even shifts right under our feet as we try both to nourish and support one another and to find languages that speak to the hearts of those who yearn to see Jesus. For, bottom line, we are called to be vessels through which God reaches for those God wishes to befriend.
What, then, sustains us and keeps us following our Lord? In my experience it is Christ himself. Dwelling in our hearts, whispering to us in our silences, nourishing and loving us in all our broken places, the Messiah holds us close, supports us and sends us forth.
We stand on the holy mountain with Jesus’ disciples when the edifices upon which we have built our faith no longer carry the abundant, wild, luscious welcome of God. That which we have known and upon which we have relied shifts away from us forever. It is all right to grieve this loss deeply, and we do. But Jesus commands us to go on from this place. We must go on to find new forms and venues, to do the necessary work of making Christ known to the world.
And, take heart. Christ’s final promise caresses us, transforming the empty, leaden air. ”I am with you always,” he says, “to the end of the age.”
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: From Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham – The Ascension