Today, on this 7th Sunday of Easter, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, Jesus departure from the disciples.
I remember teaching my children to ride a bike, just like I was taught when I was a child.
First came the training wheels and then came the day they wanted them off. Slowly, slowly, they pulled away from me as I held the bike up. A few crashes later they were confident and riding around the parking lot on their own.
I did that on the street I grew up on with my father teaching, holding me up. Part of life is in giving our children the freedom to learn, to crash, to pick themselves up & try again, to trust themselves, just as we had been taught, and of course, there will be bumps and bruises along the way.
That in a nutshell is what the Feast of the Ascension is all about…
The disciples were lost without Jesus when they thought it was all over with his crucifixion on Good Friday but after the Resurrection when he kept appearing to them, helping them understand their ministry & their calling, they grew confident in who they were.
Then in the Ascension, as they watch Jesus leave, he sends them to go & do their work. They will crash, they will have bumps and bruises but it is now their ministry and they are entrusted with it. All that they had learned would guide them with the Holy Spirit into the truth of their calling.
Scott Adams, the creator of the popular comic strip Dilbert, the daily adventures of a nerdy engineer trying to make sense of corporate America while working for the world's most dysfunctional technology company, wrote in 2011 about the struggle to maintain our sense of humanity in the rat-race of our lives:Our journey in life is about learning and discovering our ministry just like the disciples. For we live after the Ascension, when Jesus is gone. It’s up to us, relying on the Holy Spirit, to discover our mission in God’s grand scheme of things. Along this journey, we will also crash, get things wrong, have bumps and bruises as we learn what it means to follow Jesus and what he has in store for us.
"Have you ever wondered who you are? You're not your body, because living cells come and go and are generally outside of your control. You're not your location, because that can change. You aren't your DNA because that simply defines the boundaries of your playing field. You aren't your upbringing because siblings routinely go in different directions no matter how similar their start.
"My best answer to my own question is this: You are what you learn.
"If all you know is how to be a gang member, that's what you'll be, at least until you learn something else. If you become a marine, you'll learn to control fear. If you go to law school, you'll see the world as a competition. If you study engineering, you'll start to see the world as a complicated machine that needs tweaking.
"I'm fascinated by the way a person changes at a fundamental level as he or she merges with a particular field of knowledge. People who study economics come out the other side thinking a different way from people who study nursing. And learning becomes a fairly permanent part of a person even as the cells in the body come and go and the circumstances of life change . . .
"It's easy to feel trapped in your own life. Circumstances can sometimes feel as if they form a jail around you. But there's almost nothing you can't learn your way out of. If you don't like who you are, you have the option of learning until you become someone else. Life is like a jail with an unlocked, heavy door. You're free the minute you realize the door will open if you simply lean into it." [Scott Adams, Dilbert.com, October 19, 2011.]
At the age of 87, Michaelango wrote the inscription “Ancora Imparo” (translated - I am still learning) into one of his sketches and then repeated it out loud on his death bed. The painter and sculptor who came from nothing and had accomplished so much in his lifetime, still believed he was still learning.
In his "high priestly prayer," Jesus prays that we might transform our lives and re-create ourselves through "learning" and comprehending the "truth" of God's compassion, justice and forgiveness as he revealed it through his life among us.
Our discipleship is about learning and practicing and seeking.
By learning compassion, Christ promises that we can begin to transform the lives of the lost, the despairing, the marginalized; by practicing justice, we can begin to change the unjust attitudes and perspectives that demean and hurt all members of society; by seeking reasons to hope despite the cynicism and negativity that surrounds us, we give the world reason to hope.
After the Ascension, Jesus leaves the ministry to us. Our training wheels are off. Now we go and do and still keep learning. With this in mind, let me leave you with the words of the great Bangladesh poet, Tagore:
[(Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo) Where The Mind Is Without Fear by Rabindranath Tagore]
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held highMay we awake to what Jesus has given us & live into that truth that Jesus entrusts to us. Amen.
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let all [my] disciples [country] awake.