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

For most faithful parishioners, Ascension Day doesn’t top the charts of favorite church celebrations. Sadly, far more worshipers are accustomed to the nerdy Stars War fan commemoration held yesterday, “May the 4th be with you,” than with Jesus’ ascension.  It is a challenge finding a tradition to make the day meaningful. I checked out my liturgical manual on the dark arts of obscure Scandinavian practices for every day of the year..  This is the book I refer to often. It instructs you to jump off of a chair on December 31st into the new year, and before Lent, to place a black cat inside a wooden barrel and then beat it with sticks to drive the evil from your town. Unfortunately the page dedicated to Ascension  celebrations was empty.

Many of Scandinavia’s European neighbors, however, do celebrate Ascension Day… even if it is only because it is a legal holiday. In some countries, people eat chicken, quail, pigeons or doves. The practice harkens back to a medieval tradition.  Jesus “flew” into heaven, so the food symbolizes the upward flight.  In western Germany bakers and innkeepers offer their customers pastries in the shapes of various birds. In other parts of Europe, people take hike- Germans do that for almost every holiday.  It reminds them, of Jesus leading his disciples out of the city for his ascension.  In Italy, a tradition involves catching crickets. It is uncertain how the cricket became associated with the Ascension Day, but the Feast is known as “La Festa del Grillo” (“the Feast of the Cricket”).  In parts of Tuscany, particularly in Florence, men used to give their beloved flowers on Ascension Day, and the a cricket cage to hear them sing. Remember, Italy is the birthplace of Pinocchio’s and the world’s most famous talking and singing Jiminy Cricket.   Oddly, in America, the saying hearing crickets, when not referring the tinnitus, is often said when someone asks a question and gets no response.

Now, that might be the response you get in most Sunday School classes when asked what is Ascension Day, but here at Lake of the Isles, where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average. The children know that Ascension Day marks an important part of church history which we affirm in the Apostles’ Creed, “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of the Father.”  Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, he entrusted his disciple with the mission to go to all the nations preaching the good news. And right after that, he ascended into heaven. He was carried away from their sight. We celebrate that with the extinguishing of our Paschal Candle and at the end of our worship service with the release of our dove shaped balloons.  But I have to confess that one day, even here, one little boy tugged at my robe after the balloons had disappeared from our sight and asked me, “Pastor, has Jesus really left us?”  I can assure you, I didn’t answer with crickets.

No doubt that is the question the disciples were pondering themselves on that first Ascension Day. “Has Jesus really left us?”  They knew that they were supposed to be happy. After all Jesus had returned in glory to his Father, and so they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. But, they were also afraid that Jesus really had left them….on their own…  to their own devices.  And that the heavens seemed as silent as crickets.  Yet, they were continually in the temple blessing God… and beseeching him with one question, “So what happens next?’

Of course, 2000 years later, we have an advantage.  We know the next chapter and we can’t think about Jesus’ ascension without pondering the possibilities of Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit which took place 10 days later. Yes, Jesus left them and was taken from their sight, in order that his Holy Spirit could be with them all  the time and everywhere.  Ascension Day marks the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth and awkward time of crickets before the ministry of the disciples and us began.

As confusing as it may be, and as deafening as the crickets may sound, the story teaches us three important lessons for when we are feeling alone and are waiting for God to act in our lives.

First of all, remember that patience is important. You’d think that God could have immediately given the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples the moment Jesus entered the clouds. It was an important gift, necessary for the mission of the church.  In the Book of Acts, St. Luke writes the that the disciples were looking up for a sign.  Instead, they were greeted by two messengers, who said to them, “Men of Galilee, what are you looking up for?  Get on your way.”  God waited 10 days before he gave them the Holy Spirit.  It might have seemed like crickets, but Jesus hadn’t left them. God was working with them and through them even while they were waiting.

Second, God moves unexpectedly and in mysterious way.  No doubt, if you or I had written the story, we’d have had the Holy Spirit meet the disciples on the road in the heart of Jerusalem. We would probably prefer the event to include a grand, full staged display of lights and music.  Instead, God enters like a cricket inside your house, deep in the basement.  God sent the Holy Spirit to meet the disciples in a shut-up room in the middle of prayer, in the center of the city unaware of what was happening to them. With God, expect unexpected- even in the silence of crickets..

Finally, Jesus’ ascension teaches us that the giving of Holy Spirit couldn’t have happened without his departure from this world. The disciples wanted Jesus to stay forever. But he knew that his time on earth was done, and it was time for the Holy Spirit to move in.

My friends, there may be times when it feels that Jesus has left you; times in which you wonder where he has gone. Prayers go unanswered, and God’s silence is like crickets   Let me assure you as I assured that little Sunday School boy tugging at my robe. Jesus has not left you. Something wonderful is not far away.  Amen.

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