What’s next? a church built on questions, not answers.

I am fond of reminding you that we are “an Easter people”

because it is a description of the church that works for me.

It also happens to be true.

The collected disciples of Jesus,

‘the church’ in its most generous and inclusive definition,

are called to live in light of Jesus resurrection.

We are who we are,

not just because Jesus taught us to love God and our neighbour,

but because after his arrest and execution,

he was raised from the dead by the power of God.

We don’t just follow the memory of Jesus,

we follow Christ alive – victorious over death.

In recognition of this singular event in the history of our faith,

we are invited to stand with God who says

‘Take that!’ to the notion that life is futile and death is to be feared.

The problem is, Easter is over.

We have honoured the story, and marked the season

with worship and the proper dignity.

The gift of life has claimed us through Word and Sacrament –

and we have responded with dedication and service

and the proclamation of the gospel.

But the world spins carelessly along, just as it has,

and I don’t mind telling you,

most days I feel more like “a child of the ascension” than an Easter person.

I resonate with those friends of Jesus,

standing at the edge of town, staring off into the blue.

There have been moments of awe and wonder in their time with Jesus –

glimpses of grace followed by moments of confusion.

Life’s like that when you have a friend

who is so brilliant; so insightful; so wonderful

that you can’t believe you are part of their ‘inner circle’.

And for all that had happened,

the resurrection had given these friends of Jesus another chance –

they listened more intently;

they received their instructions; finally they could hear clearly.

‘Be faithful witnesses to all the world,

but wait first in Jerusalem, where you will receive ‘power from on high’ – the promised gift of God.’

But what is witness like

once Jesus rises up on a cloud and disappears?

Who will tell them what the gift looks like?

How will they know when it is time to gather, or time to go,

without Jesus there to tell them?

It seems to me that the moment Jesus disappeared from their sight,

the hope, the energy, the passion

of these few dedicated men and women

must have felt as though it was going up along with him.

We know that the gift of the Spirit will once again change things

for these poor, confused souls.

But for the moment, consider how we find them;

alone – Amazed – and waiting for the next big moment.

And through the gift that is Scripture, we can learn about ourselves

as we consider the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ascension –

an event that seems even more mysterious to us than the resurrection.

The resurrection proves the power of God’s love

over the ancient and very present fear of death.

The resurrection,

as a display of the power of God

and an example of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence,

makes sense to us.

The resurrection is God’s way of saying “take that!”

to all that would oppose grace and peace and love in this world.

Jesus walking talking – etc –

among those who had given him up for lost

was a powerful boost for the faithful.

The ascension has no such power.

The ascension leaves the faithful behind wondering “What’s next?”

and that is not a comfortable feeling.

‘What’s next?’ is our default position,

both as human beings and as followers of the risen Christ.

As much as we ARE an Easter people,

we are also children of this ascension moment.

We have heard all Jesus has to offer, and accepted it.

We have put our trust in the promises of God,

and now we wait; and if you’re like me,

you may not even know what it is we’re waiting for…

Is it the peaceable kingdom?

A home in glory?

Or are we just staring into the middle distance

waiting for Jesus to re-appear;

to pick up where he left off?

‘What’s next?’ is an important question

at every stage in the life of the church.

It is the question that moves us forward

in our pursuit of the gift of the gospel.

It is those uncomfortable times in the life of the church  –

when we are caught between the joy of Easter and the zeal of Pentecost –

that the real work gets done.

“What’s next?” leads to pot-luck suppers and song services;

talent auctions and soup lunches;

earthquake relief and clean water projects.

Such questions took us from Residential schools to formal apologies,

to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

These are productive questions in the lives of the faithful,

and we must not be afraid to ask them.

The questions we ask when Jesus has been “hidden from our sight”

and the Spirit’s presence is just a faint disturbance on the horizon

help to define the mission of the church in the world.

(“What would Jesus do?” is a ‘what’s next?’ question…) –

it is a great comfort to me to think of our current challenges in this light;

challenges that stretch our faith

and cause us to wonder and worry about the future,

not just of the church, but of the planet and its inhabitants.

The promises offered by the gospel

are ‘hidden from our sight’ by the world as it is.

And the greatest challenge for the church

is not that the promise of Easter must be reinterpreted or reimagined two thousand years later;

our challenge is to accept ‘what’s next?’ as part of that promise.

“This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven,

will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

So said the dazzling strangers on that day.

“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

There were questions to be asked and answered then.

And until the Kingdom comes, until Jesus returns,

the work of the church is in those questions.

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