Home? Alone?: Ascension 2021

 I think our first babysitter was Heather. Then Jennifer. Then another Heather. There were lots of Heathers in the 80’s. But one day came when Mom and Dad were going out, and there was no babysitter. It was just going to be me and my little sister. They announced that I was now old enough. There was a positive but very serious briefing, everybody put on a brave face, and the door shut behind them and just like that we were…. home alone.

It was exciting because it meant I was growing up, and because being trusted is exciting, and because responsibility is exciting, and also because I imagined all the awesome things we would do free of supervision, none of which really materialized. 


On the other hand there was one thing that made it seem much more weighty and serious than it would otherwise have been, and that was that I wasn’t home alone alone, in point of fact, but my little sister and I were home alone together. She had to be looked after and kept out of trouble and all that sort of thing. I’m sure her actual needs were only a shadow of the monumental responsibility I imagined in my head, but there it was. And having Mom and Dad away made being a big brother take on a whole new meaning. I really was my sister’s keeper. And — though I was too full of myself and my two-and-a-half years’ seniority to realize it at the time — she was mine.


Well, I’m sure you can see the analogy I’m building to the Ascension of Jesus. There’s a kind of responsibility and growth that can only happen when we’re left at least a little bit on our own. I’m not talking about abandonment, but just a certain stepping back and letting us have at it. The giving of responsibility, real responsibility, that necessarily involves risk and consequence or it isn’t real, it’s only pretend.


There’s a spiritual growing up that we have to do that maybe wouldn’t be possible with Jesus still walking around bodily on the Earth. There’s a taking of responsibility that would maybe never happen without the Ascension.


You can see Peter making this step in the first verses of Acts as we just heard. He asks the question of the Risen Lord, “Lord, are You now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Which, for Peter, meant the restoration of peace and justice and right in the world. He was asking Jesus, “now that You’ve risen, are you going to fix the world?” And we could ask the same question today. Sometimes people do ask that question, quite pointedly. “If Jesus is who you say He is, why is the world so messed up? If Jesus is our Savior, why doesn’t the world look more… saved?”


Do you remember what Jesus answered when Peter asked if He would fix the world? He said: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” See, Peter, this isn’t something I do for you, it’s something you must do with my help. Later we heard from the last verses of Mark, which say that they went forth and that “the Lord worked with them.”


St. Teresa of Avila wrote a poem that might sound familiar to you:


Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours,

yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion

is to look out to the earth,

yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good

and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.


Look at your hands. Are you looking at the hands of Christ? Do these hands reach out with help and healing? How many times have they touched a modern-day leper, alienated or outcast? Look at your feet. Are you looking at the feet of Christ? Have they carried you into the desert to pray and seek unity with the Father? Have they carried you to help the helpless, including and especially those who didn’t deserve help? Does Christ’s compassion look out through your eyes? Do you see other human beings with the love with which He sees?


It’s tempting to want to stay in spiritual infancy. We’d love for God to just do everything for us. We’d love for Christ to stick around and do all the touching of lepers and helping of the outcasts and suffering with and for others out of love. We’d love for Jesus to be on a world tour making stadium appearances so that nothing resembling faith would ever be necessary. It would be nice for everything to be served up to us, and nothing left for us to do but mumble a ‘thank you’ now and then. But our God is too good a Father to spare us the growing pains of growing up, or to deny us real responsibility… the profound and ultimately eternal joy of spending ourselves in a worthy cause, and serving others out of love.


I started writing this sermon with an example — being ‘home alone’ — that I thought would come full circle with reference to the Ascension. But the opposite happened, and the truth is we aren’t home. The Ascension reminds us that we are on our pilgrim way toward our real home. And we are aren’t alone. We have brothers and sisters to look after.


If that isn’t happening, or not enough, if people are still hungry and forgotten and abused and neglected and outcast, we don’t need to look at the media or the politicians or whoever we like to blame things on. If the work of Christ is left undone, we should look to those He has called in Baptism to continue that work, empowered with His Holy Spirit and fed with His own Body and Blood. 


Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours,

yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion

is to look out to the earth,

yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good

and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.




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