You may listen to Mother Takacs's sermon here.
I have very few memories of the house my family lived in when I was born because we moved when I was only three. One clear memory I have of that home, though, is of standing alone in my bedroom one night when all of the lights went out. It was a beautiful bedroom as I remember it – an airy attic room with a peaked ceiling and a wide window seat. It was pink and cozy and held all of my favorite things, like my big cardboard toy box, my Fisher Price record player, and my yellow ragdoll named Sunny.
On this night in particular I was, for some reason, upstairs all by myself, awake, and watching an enormous thunderstorm roll in. The storm didn’t bother me – even when I was a very little girl I always liked the flash and bang of a really dramatic summer squall. But this evening, after a particularly bright splash of lightning and a particularly close clap of thunder, I was suddenly plunged into deep darkness. And this did bother me. I remember feeling a little quiver of panic run through my belly. What was I supposed to do now? Where was I to go? But before this little pulse of panic pushed me into some dangerous action, like trying to run downstairs to find my parents in the dark, I heard my dad’s voice, calling up the steep staircase to me. Erika, he said, stay right where you are. Stand still – I’m coming to you.
Immediately that little quiver of fear just slipped right out of my body. It was still storming, and it was still pitch black, but Dad was coming, and now I knew what to do. Stay still and wait, and he’d be there soon. And sure enough, after what seemed like just a breath between thunderclaps, I saw a flickering light begin to spread up the stairwell. And then Dad was there, just as he’d promised, standing in my room. He was holding a sturdy white candle, and the light from its flame spilled into the room, chasing away the shadows and making my beautiful room somehow even more beautiful, warmer, rosier, more magical. The light and Dad’s presence reassured me that I was safe and that I was, after all of that, right where I was supposed to be.
40 days it’s been. 40 days that Jesus has been showing up with his disciples since Easter morning. 40 days of his resurrected body, 40 days of his somewhat sporadic but infinitely miraculous presence. On this fortieth day, they are standing with him on the hill of Bethany, looking out across the valley at the stormy city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has not been a particularly comfortable place for the disciples. It is not home for these Galilean fishermen. It is not a place where they have many friends or any family; it is the place where they themselves have been threatened and where they saw Jesus arrested and tried, beaten and killed. Even after the resurrection, Jerusalem has been largely a place of fear – of hiding in dark rooms and of starting, spooked, when Jesus suddenly popped up in their midst. Recently in Jerusalem they have been overjoyed, of course, but they have also been confounded, afraid, and at times left largely in the dark.
And now Jesus seems to be telling them that he is preparing to leave them alone. Again. He is giving them final instructions – again – telling them what to do and how to be when he goes to his father. And I imagine that the thought of being entirely on their own in this post-resurrection world might have sent a tiny quiver of panic running through some of their bellies. They don’t really understand the resurrection fully, they haven’t learned everything they need to know. Things are still dangerous for them out there, and plans are vague. What are they supposed to do now? Where are they supposed to go and how are they supposed to get there?
But before their panic can send them spinning out and running down into the valley like a herd of frightened cattle, they hear Jesus’ voice speak to them a command that is simple and clear. Just stay here, he says. Stay here in the city and wait. Stand still – don’t go anywhere just yet. Stay here and I promise that the Holy Spirit will come find you. And then, perhaps with a flash and a bang, or perhaps with a rustle and a whisper, Jesus is gone, taken up into heaven, ascended to sit at the right hand of his Father. But his words still ring out in the air. He has not left them comfortless. He has lifted up his hands and blessed them, and he has left them holding a powerful promise. They will stay where they are, they will stand still in Jerusalem, and they will let the Holy Spirit come find them. They know that they will not stay in Jerusalem forever. They will begin as witnesses there, but then spread out to “Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” But for now, in this moment of uncertainty and inbetween, they will stay still and wait, knowing that the Holy Spirit will be right there. And with that, the quivers of fear and panic just slide right on out of their bodies, and they return to Jerusalem with great joy.
Tonight, you and I are entering into the season of Ascensiontide, a small little seasonette at the end of Easter, a season within a season. But like other major seasons of the year, Ascensiontide does have a purpose, a plan for us. It is, at its core, a season of preparation, like Advent or Lent. It is a season when we are invited to prepare for a holy coming, when we are asked to spend a period of time – the next ten days, to be exact – getting ready. But if Advent tells us to get ready by keeping awake, and if Lent tells us to get ready to repenting, Ascensiontide tells us to get ready by standing still. Ascensiontide encourages us to practice staying right where we are and letting ourselves be found. Ascensiontide promises us that the Holy Spirit is not out there somewhere, passive, waiting; the Holy Spirit is on the move, searching for us. The Holy Spirit will come to us, even if – especially if – we are in times of great darkness and sorrow, times of confusion and inbetween, times when we begin to feel those small quivers of panic running through our bellies.
Ascensiontide reminds us that it is in those times that we can so clearly remember Jesus’ voice speaking words of promise. No matter where we are, no matter how dark it may seem in our own hearts or in the world, there is hope. Don’t panic; don’t run. Don’t let your fear and your anxiety push your soul into a place of danger. Just stay where you are and the Holy Spirit will come find you.
There will be times in our lives when we are called to move – sent out to feed, to bless, to serve, to wash, to love, to listen, to teach, to baptize, to make disciples, to heal, to visit, to go, to find. But this little season of Ascensiontide reminds us that there are other times when we are called to let ourselves be found, to stand still, to wait with eyes open and awake, to wait facing in the right direction, but to wait and let God do the finding. Ascensiontide reminds us that there are times when we hear God’s voice calling to us in the dark. Stay where you are, my dearest beloved. I’m coming to you. And when that happens, the Holy Spirit will come find us, bringing a light that transforms the world, making all of our lives more beautiful, more vibrant, more warm and grace-filled and true, reassuring us that we are safe, and that being found we are, in fact, exactly where we are supposed to be.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
29 May 2014 - The Feast of the Ascension
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia