[You can watch a video recording of this Call to Worship at the end of this text. To see the entire service, click here.]
We are still in the Easter season one last Sunday, and I still have echoing in my heart one of the music videos from Easter morning: “After all the things I’ve been through, I still have joy.” I am glad to find that refrain persisting because this hard time we are in is feeling harder as it drags on and we see more clearly the challenges of the next phase.
I also am glad that the church year offers us the wild story of the Ascension of Christ on this Sunday of Easter, because in the end we can imagine the disciples singing, “After all the things we’ve been through, we still have joy.”
The Ascension takes place just 40 days after everything fell completely apart. One of the most trusted disciples betrayed the loving, healing teacher who had transformed their lives. The leading disciple denied Jesus three times. The men had all run away. Only a few leading women had remained courageous and faithful.
They felt guilt and shame, horror and deep grief, and then Jesus suddenly reappeared, walking through locked doors, turning their sense of reality upside down and cracking it open to reveal powers and realms they had never imagined.
And then came today, forty days after he rose from the dead. Jesus led them out of the city to the Mount of Olives, tradition has it, and they saw him—they saw him rise into the sky before their very eyes.
So now they were alone, uncertain where things were going or what they were going to do. It was still only five weeks since Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed. They had no reason to think it wouldn’t happen to them, too, if they went openly into the city, and yet the story in Luke says that after Jesus ascended, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”
“After all the things I’ve been through, I still have joy!”
Who knows how much of this story is factual, but we do know that the devastation and danger that first church faced was real, and we know that their joy was true and infectious.
So if they could feel great joy, maybe we can, too, even though, like them, our world has been turned upside down and it feels unsafe to venture out of our homes, and like theirs the leadership of our nation is autocratic, hostile and unstable and our future looks grim. What made great joy possible for them that could also make it possible for us?
This past Thursday someone in our Heartfulness Circle talked about the toll this time taking on young adults and children. Their cumulative pain and worry are getting heavier and harder to bear, and compassion for them means carrying that weight in our hearts, too.
The Heartfulness Circle offers training in spiritual practices and tools that can open us to the Spirit’s guidance and strength through our struggles, and this person talked about how the Welcoming Practice was helping. Even more it was helping to remember one of the members of the circle who had gone through a terrible personal ordeal and shared with us the wisdom that grew with every stage of the journey.
Just the thought of that person can help us in our struggles, and the disciples had that, too. Just the thought of Jesus helped them find their way to the light in the darkness, to joy in the midst of pain.
After all the things we’ve been through, we still have spiritual teachers and models to inspire us and remind us that we can do hard things.
After all the things we’ve been through we still have the truth that people before us have faced terrible ordeals and the Holy Spirit has shown them a way through and given them the strength to get there.
After all the things we’ve been through, we still have a vision of what the realm of God on earth could be: love of neighbor; unconditional compassion; the justice of the Golden Rule; a global ethic built on those principles that could transform the world to be a place of oneness and harmony with nature and among all people.
After all the things we’ve been through we still have gifts to share, we still have ways of serving that fill our lives with meaning, purpose and love.
So after all the things we’ve been through, we still have joy.
We will explore other dimensions of the Ascension in the children’s time and the sermon.
Here is Mel Goertz’s haiku for this week which has its own secrets of a joyful life to share:
Porcupine in the orchard.
As Herbert approached him,
he kept feeding.
Let us worship together continuing on with this service.