You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time Video here.
Scripture: Acts 1: 1-11
Music: Like a Healing Stream; The Rising
Musicians: Pete Betts, Emma Etheridge, Andy O’Neill, Jenny O’Neill, Stephen Spencer
Do you remember the story about the man who thought he had booked a plane ticket to Sydney, Australia, but who had actually booked a ticket to Sydney, Nova Scotia? It turned out that he had a wonderful visit to Sydney and remained in touch with the people who had hosted him. When being interviewed, he described the conversations he’d had upon landing. “The airline said they were sorry, but that there was nothing they could do, the cost of the ticket to Australia being so much more expensive. But a complete stranger said to me, ‘Well, you’re here now. What do you want to do?’”
“John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” This is what the Risen Christ said to his disciples before ascending into heaven. The Spirit of Truth and Healing is yours now to share. Look for me no longer.
As the disciples were still looking heavenward, two observers came from out of nowhere and asked the disciples, “What are you looking up there for?” Your work is down here. You know what to do. Of course, the disciples knew what to do – they’d been watching Jesus do it for years. Heal the sick, feed the hungry, restore the dispossessed.
The question with which they probed the heavens was not whether they could, but how; how will we find the strength to carry on? They felt orphaned, bereft. What they wouldn’t give for just one more day with him, just one more meal, one more walk by the water. They felt left behind: wouldn’t it be great if things could just go back to the way they were – the life we knew and loved.
After the year we’ve had, we know this feeling all too well: separated from family and friends; confined to our houses and province; uncertain about when – and even whether – things will ever go back to the way they were. This is the experience of loss we have all endured this year, but there have been others, as well.
People have lost jobs, relationships have ended, loved ones have died. Each of us has changed, both in ways which we can name and in ways which might only become obvious with time. I think it’s good for us to be aware that there are moments of emotional and spiritual reckoning still to come – for each of us and for our community – because it’s in those moments that our work as a congregation, and as friends, begins again.
For the disciples, it was probably one thing to know what their work was, and another thing entirely to do it. They probably felt strange the first few times, doing what Jesus had done: healing, feeding, comforting, proclaiming. The words didn’t sound the same when they said them; sometimes they lost their place in the middle of the prayer. Jesus was always so certain, so self-assured, so calm. His well was so deep, his faith so strong.
When they were being honest – speaking plainly with each other about that time the blind man saw again, or that wild afternoon with the loaves and fishes – they hadn’t ever really been sure what had happened. What they knew for certain, however, were that the moments he spent with people – listening, nodding, smiling, weeping, walking, holding, praying – over and over again they had seen Jesus help people find the strength to rise up out of their fear, out of their loneliness.
What he did was more than heal them; he lifted them. He broke the bonds that kept them down, loosened chains of doubt and grief within them, and in their place helped them find the power of God within themselves. And what he said each time is what he said to the disciples as he ascended: the Spirit of God blesses you and strengthens you; you know what to do.
The disciples had seen it hundreds of times before. So many towns, so many people, transformed by a very simple idea: this trouble you face, this worry you carry, it’s part of life, but it is not all of who you are. Loss is part of life, but not all of it. God’s Spirit is with us, in us, and lifts us. And we lift each other, when we laugh and listen, when we love and forgive, when we seek peace with our neighbour and justice even for those whom we don’t know.
Do you remember, at the beginning of this pandemic, wondering, “When will things go back to normal?” And then, as days of sheltering at home became weeks and then months, that question became, “Will things ever go back to normal?” Eventually, the question changed again, to, “What if things don’t ever go back to the way they were?”
More and more, the newsletters and articles I’m receiving out of Churchland are asking a completely different question, “What could this new future look like?”
Take a simple example: small group gatherings. This past year, we haven’t been able to meet at the church, and instead we’ve had to meet on Zoom.
Now, I’d still rather meet with you in person, but the flexibility of online meetings means that we’ve been able to include many more people than we had been able to before: parents with evening responsibilities can join a book group from the kitchen as their little ones fall asleep in the next room; people with busy schedules can join more easily without the commute; and a Senator in Ottawa, or friends who’ve moved to BC, can be with us again.
We’re also working on adapting our worship experience, moving to what is called “live streaming.” With small, discreet cameras filming in the sanctuary, our worship can be broadcast on the internet as it’s happening, so that those who are at home are participating in the same worship service as those who are in the church building. Friends who can’t get to church, for whatever reason, can join us online and not feel left out or forgotten.
And of course, this past year has also exposed areas where we need to advocate for positive change: CERB was essentially an experiment with a guaranteed liveable income; supply chain weaknesses taught us more about our province’s need for better food security; the experience of isolation made it clear how essential are mental health resources and support.
As we rise out of this time, to wonder when we’ll go back to the way things were is simply no longer the right question. The fact is, like the man who wound up in Sydney, NS, we’re here now, so what are we going to do?
Rather than this being a moment of uncertainty, I think it’s a moment of great possibility. I think that the question of what this new future could look like is an exciting one. And I can hear the two observers on Ascension Day, asking the disciples, “What are you looking back there for?” Your work is here now. You know what to do.
We do know what to do: this community knows how to lift each other, how to laugh and listen, how to love and forgive, how to seek peace with both friend and stranger. All that remains is for us to adapt how we do that, to share God’s love in new way, for a new time. And the good news is that, in the power of the Risen Christ, in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, that time is now. The time for rising is now. Amen.
Holy One, sometimes we forget how often the world has changed over time and how your people have had to refocus and learn once again how to move forward in the world. Yet, you have been there time and time again to guide us and lead us into the future.
We forget how disorienting it was for the followers of Jesus to have followed him, watched him die, encountered him after the resurrection and then for him to once again be gone from their lives as they then waited for the Spirit. You gave them insight and wisdom, you encouraged them to risk and to let go of the issues from the past and to dare to dream about the hope and possibility of the future.
Now you have guided us to this place and this time. Over the past year and a bit we have had to let go of much and relearn what it means to be a community of faith filled followers. Some changes have been easy others have been hard; some things will come back and others will never be the same. Help us discern as we look to the future the best ways to move forward faithfully.
We are tired and weary. Our minds are foggy. Yet, there are signs of resurrection and renewal. Flowers are blooming and the buds on trees are opening. Just as the birds of winter have moved north the migration is ongoing as we marvel at the brilliant beauty of finches, warblers and other birds of the air. The grass is greening and dandelions are popping. May these signs of spring remind us of the resurrection and the hope that you offer us.
Be with us and guide us, Loving God. Help us to have ears to truly hear how your word and the witness of our ancestors in the faith speaks to us. Grant us the courage to open our eyes and look toward the future so we envision a new way rooted in your call of compassion and healing, of peace with justice for all.
We pray for ourselves and our community:
help soothe our anxieties and calm our fears,
help us to discern how best to care for ourselves and others.
Open our hearts to your deep love for us.
On this Christian family Sunday, we pray especially for families:
for mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, loving aunts, uncles and cousins.
For all that unites us with others no matter whether it is DNA, choice or the circumstances of life.
May we find blessing and be enriched by those connections.
Where there is division or brokenness, help us bind those wounds, where there is joy or happiness may all rejoice together,
Where there are quirks may they be met with smiles rather than smirks. Be with all families and help draw them deeper into a sense of love and connection.
In this time, we ask that you offer protection to those who are seeking to protect and help us. We give thanks for all of the essential workers and those who are seeking to make life a little better for all.
We give thanks also for people who continue to make calls to check on others and for those doing the best they can to offer care and compassion.
We pray for all whose world has been turned upside down;
for those who have lost work,
for those who are sick,
for all who are affected in any way by the pandemic economically and or socially,
We pray for those who are grieving, on this day we pray for the family of Nick Arsenault, bless them with strength, grace and hope on this day and in the days to come.
We ask that you continue to be with those across our nation and around the world affected by the newest pandemic wave.
We pray also for the leaders of the world that they may respond quickly to the needs in India and the countries in Africa who have received virtually no vaccines.
We pray also for those places who continue to face violence, disruption and oppression; we remember the people of Ethiopia, Syria, Palestine and many other places.
In spite of the pandemic, in spite of the fear and sense of loss, help us, O God, that we might see through your word, how you see us; that we are all your beloved children and part of your sacred creation.
We pray in the words Jesus taught us,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
forever and ever.
Go into your week,
knowing that you are embraced by the love of God;
a love that is sweeter and more tender
than any you have ever known.
A love as enduring as a parent for a child and a child for a parent.