2021 05 09: Ascension Sunday

Posted on 10 May 2021

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It is said, once a mother, always a mother.  No matter how grown the kids are, in her eyes, they will always be her precious little ones. Nor does a mother ever stops worrying about her children, even when they are all grown up and having children of their own.  Secretly every mother still hopes that even when they have left the house, that their children will still come through the front door without knocking, that they will head to the kitchen for a snack, and slump on the sofa to watch TV.   Yes, every mother hopes that her children will come in and feel the weight of adulthood leave them for they are home. For a mother’s children, the door is always open.

Of course, moms can still be moms, even to the most famous of children. Isaac Newton’s mother, for example, asked Isaac quizzically, “But did you wash the apple before eating it?”  Thomas Edison’s mother sighed shockingly, “Tommy, Of course I am proud that you invented the electric bulb. Now turn it off and get to bed.” Or Michelangelo’s mother who said artistically, “Son, can’t you paint on walls like other children? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that stuff off the ceiling?”

So I wonder what Mary the Mother of our Lord said when Jesus ascended into heaven. After all, according to Orthodox tradition, she was there on the Mount of Olives when Jesus’ returned to his father.   At the center of the icon depicting Jesus’ ascension, she is front and center where she represents the church waiting for Christ’s return.  In the Orthodox tradition Mary is also one of the first to see her son when he is resurrected from the dead.  In this way she is honored for her faithfulness in caring for the son of God.  St. Luke, however, only hints at her presence in the story. He simply writes that Mary was in the Upper Room when the 12 disciples returned having seen Jesus’ ascension.  Surely, Mary must have wanted Jesus to know that the door to her home was always open. No doubt, she would have offered Jesus a parting word for his departure if she had known the hour. After all, once a mother, always a mother.

This morning, I would like us to meditate, somewhat whimsically perhaps, on Jesus’ own final words to his disciples as he ascended into heaven. Mary may not have composed them for her son, but I certainly think that they were inspired by a mother’s love for child.  So consider this sermon as practical advice for life from a mother when she no longer can be there to pick you up and brush you off and start all over again.  It’s a mother’s advice spoken by her faithful son, Jesus. Be patient, be positive, and be prepared – and I am with you always.

There’s no doubt in my mind, that Jesus’ mother Mary taught her son patience. No father could teach patience.  It’s just not a part of a fatherly skill set.  I am reminded of the man with a black eye who sighed, “My wife said she’s lost her patience with me. And I told her I’d help her find it.  She didn’t think it was funny.”

Mothers have learned the art of patience through child raiser. Who else but a mother can be excited about a smile, a gurgle, a step, the first word, and the 100th question “why” in single day? The mothers I have known have taught me that you don’t have to wait around for your children to grow up to enjoy them.  No, they do not have to be talented, successful over-achievers in order to cherish them.  You begin by enjoying them patiently today.  Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “Wait, and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”   There was still work to be done, knowledge to gain and reflection to be discussed.  They would need patience to be effective witnesses in the world.

Jesus’ second word of practical advice was to be positive.  That is a mother’s perspective and word of counsel if I have heard one.  A father would encourage a child to push ahead and be aggressive, but a mother would encourage her sons and or daughters to be good and to be positive. We all have dreams for our lives, and certainly mothers have dreams for their lives as well, but often in life, mothers forego professional advancement, social contacts, and personal growth and satisfaction, all for the sake of the ones she loves.  O certainly, fathers state that they sacrifice for their family.  But most often for fathers it is what they choose not to do.

Before he was lifted up and taken from their sight, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be witnesses.”  Jesus has a dream for his disciples, and sometimes it won’t match with their dreams. Part of that dream for our lives is that you and I will be positive, living witness of Christ’s presence in the world.  Mind you, there will be many who will tell you to abandon the Christian faith. There are those who believe that faith is nothing more than a set of rules to ruin a perfectly good time.  It is in those moments when we need to be reminded of the loving mothers who were willing to sacrifice for the sake of others.

A teacher asked a boy this question: “Suppose your mother baked a pie and there were seven of you–your parents and five children. What part of the pie would you get?” “A sixth,” replied the boy. “I’m afraid you don’t know your fractions,” said the teacher. “Remember, there are seven of you.” “Yes, teacher,” said the boy, “but you don’t know my mother. Mother would say she didn’t want any pie.” I was 35 years-old before I realized that my mother didn’t like of the back of chicken. I always thought that was why she took them when the serving plate passed by her.  We are called to be a positive witnesses in the world- even when the worst comes along and that may mean sacrifice.

Jesus’ third word of practical advice was to be prepared.  Fathers prepare for the challenges ahead by going out and training, by buying the right equipment to ensure success, by dedicating time and energy to creating the right environment, but mothers begin whenever the opportunity arrives.  They see the possibility where neb seem to only see obstacles. A five-year-old and a seven-year-old brother and sister presented their Mom with a house plant for Mother’s Day. They had used their own money and she was thrilled. The older of them, however, said with a sad face, “Mommy, there was a bouquet that we wanted to give you, but it cost too much.  It was real pretty.  It had a ribbon on it that said, ‘Rest In Peace,’ and we thought it would be just right for you since you are always asking us for a little peace so that you can rest.”  She said thank you just the same. That innocence, was in sharp contrast to the father who said to his wife on Mother’s Day as she was preparing do wash the dishes, “Relax honey… you can just do them in the morning.”

Before he was lifted up, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be my witnesses – in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t command his disciples to go to the end of the earth first.  That was to be the final dream and destination.  The disciples would certainly journey to those places. But Jesus’ practical advice for the future was simply to begin with the tasks that need to be done in their own backyard.  It’s a mother’s counsel to each one of us.

And Jesus final word of practical advice was, “I am with you always.” In my last parish out in Marine on St. Croix, there is larger than life altar painting of Jesus ascending into heaven which forms the focal point of the front of the church.  Jesus is being lifted up to heaven as the disciples and perhaps Mary the Lord’s mother looking on.  Written on the wall above the painting are Jesus’ last words spoken, in Swedish, from the scene of Lord’s ascension recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.”  Certainly those words were inspired by a loving mother.

Deborah R. Culver wrote a lovely poem called “Your Mother is Always With You” which echoes that thought. It is my gift to you today.

Your Mother is always with you.

She’s the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street.

She’s the smell of certain foods you remember, flowers you pick, the fragrance of life itself.

She’s the cool hand on your brow when you’re not feeling well.

She’s your breath in the air on a cold winters’ day.

She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep, the colors of a rainbow.

She is Christmas morning.

Your mother lives inside your laughter.

She’s the place you come from, your first home.

She’s the map you follow with every step you take.

She’s your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy.

But nothing on Earth can separate you.

Not time.

Not space.

Not even death.

So my friends, remembers Jesus’ words of practical advice in parting.  Be patient, be positive, be prepared- and I am with you always. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.