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Today we commemorate the Ascension, which might feel like just another normal day in the life of Jesus the Messiah. We don’t make as big a deal of the Ascension as we do Easter when Jesus was raised from the dead, forty days before, though some churches do. In the Bible, the ascension gets just a few words in a single verse in Mark, Luke, and Acts 1:9 “…as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight…”
The lack of description leaves us with lots of unanswered questions and blanks we can fill in with our imaginations. If you like to draw, you could have fun finding different ways to draw the ascension. What do you think the ascension of Jesus looked like?
In my mind, it looks a bit like the Pixar animated short film “Lifted.”
With God at the helm, it was probably a clean and simple ascension, so maybe there isn’t all that much to say about it, and it might look like this except with clouds instead of a spaceship, and the disciples standing on the ground watching.
In the Pixar film, there’s a rookie alien at the helm of the spaceship. He’s learning how manage a ridiculously complicated control board, and he has all kinds of trouble getting a farmer named Ernie out of his bed, out his window, and up to the spaceship.
As the rookie alien tries different unlabeled switches, Ernie gets bumped into the wall, the floor, and the ceiling multiple times, amazingly never waking up. The poor alien is so frustrated with the trouble he’s having, so nervous under the watchful scrutiny of his supervisor, that he’s on the verge of tears.
The bumbling alien is sort of like the disciples. After all that’s happened, Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, and all that Jesus has been teaching them about the kingdom of God, they still ask Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Just like that poor little alien doesn’t have a clue how to work all the controls on the spaceship console, the disciples still don’t really understand what God is doing through Jesus.
How would you respond to the disciples’ question?
I think it would be hard not to let out an exasperated sigh or groan, or to keep from rolling my eyes, just like we might do when the tired and whiny kids in the back seat of the car keep asking, “Aren’t we there yet?”
But Jesus simply says, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has put into place by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7)
In other words, don’t worry so much about when something is going to happen. Our time is in God’s hands, as Psalm 31 reminds us.
But the disciples are anxious, maybe because Jesus has already told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5) The disciples are ready to get this Holy Spirit party started, but it’s not time yet. The timing isn’t theirs to know, but Jesus tells them what they can know:
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
So, first, wait for the Holy Spirit, then, go tell people about me everywhere.
And just in case they might stand there looking up into the sky too long and forget that Jesus has given them their marching orders, two men in white robes show up and say, “Why are you standing there staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven and someday he will return in the same way you saw him go.” (Acts 1:11)
So the disciples go back to Jerusalem, back to the upstairs room, Acts tells us. Why do we need to know that it was an upstairs room? So we could know that the disciples also ascended – they ascended the stairs.
They get busy praying. Acts 1:14 says: “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer.”
Their prayers are ascending to God, and to Jesus who now sits on the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf with God, as the Apostle’s Creed reminds us. The disciples keep on praying for ten days, and that’s when the Holy Spirit comes on Pentecost, which we will celebrate here next Sunday.
Acts doesn’t tell us exactly what they were praying, but I wonder if they were asking God to send the Holy Spirit soon? We too can be asking God to pour out the Spirit upon us, and to make us receptive to the Holy Spirit, willing to listen, brave enough to act. That’s what the book of Acts is about – all the ways the people who followed Jesus were acting on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
There’s another time of prayer in Acts 4, after Peter and John get arrested and brought before the council of elders who warn them not to talk about Jesus anymore. As soon as Peter and John are freed, they go back to the believers and tell them what happened, and they pray together. This time we get the words of the prayer:
“O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— . . . 29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:21,29-31)
How often do we meet together just to pray? Praying with other people can be hard but it’s a good practice to work on. It might be easier than we expect. A lot of my prayers start out, “Hi, God. Thanks for today.”
Do we need to have specific words for prayer? No, we don’t even need words. But sometimes it helps to use prewritten prayers or verses of scripture or a devotional to get you started.
What helps you pray?
Do you have specific times and places for prayer? We don’t have to, but these can help us remember to pray and to be more focused in prayer. Plus, there’s something special about the places we pray.
In the novel Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café, Max Lucado writes about a woman who has inherited her grandmother’s coffee shop. One of her employees, a man named Manny, is actually her guardian angel, though she doesn’t know it. Because he is an angel, Manny can hear unspoken prayers, and he hears whispers coming from an unused room in the living quarters behind the café.
Quoting from the book….
“[Manny] followed a trail of whispers to a set of doors tucked between the staircase and the café. He pulled back the accordion doors, drinking in the sights and sounds of a sunroom washed in buttery paint and brimming with boxes, antiques, and trinkets from eras past. Delicate lace drapes framed a picture-perfect bay window, still hours away from flooding the room with light. Nestled between the floaty antique fabric was a wingback chair holding a needlepoint pillow with the phrase Living on coffee and a prayer.
“Manny sipped his latte and leaned into the space. The whispers swelled into words and phrases pulled from the ether. He closed his eyes and listened to the symphony . . . the kind only angels hear. “Oh Father, you are faithful and true . . .” “I need your help, God . . .” “. . . bring healing to my family” “Lord, bless my daughters . . .” Decades of prayers resounded through the small room. Prayers that pass through the lips in a moment, but endure for all eternity. “. . . help my girls to forgive their father . . .” “. . . thank you for your mercy . . .” “Lord, give Chelsea the grace she needs . . .” “May your angels be encamped around my family . . .” “. . . and let this place be a house of prayer.”
“As Manny soaked in the chorus of prayers, his eyes roamed the maze of memories that filled the room. …Manny pulled the doors shut. As he did, an image flashed before him. A vision of the room from heaven’s view. Cutting through the dark landscape of the neighborhood, a glow had been emanating from this very corner of the café. Manny was certain this forgotten corner was meant to be more than a storehouse for memories; it was a sacred space. A house of prayer. Though neglected for a time, Manny had a suspicion the room would soon be put to good use once again.”
If Manny were your guardian angel, where would he hear whispers of your past prayers?
Henri Nouwen writes about this idea of a lingering prayers in his book entitled Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Nouwen says that setting aside a quiet, peaceful place and decorating it with images that speak about God, maybe some candles to light, even some incense to burn, can help us more easily want to pray there. Nouwen says, “the more [we] pray in such a place, the more the place will be filled with the energy of prayer. If you don’t have a spare room for prayer, at least reserve a little corner of your room for prayer. If that is not possible, try to go to a church or chapel where you feel safe and where you desire to return. A place that you visit daily for prayer soon becomes a friendly place, a place that gently calls you back to prayer and welcomes you with open arms whenever you walk in.”
If any place can be a friendly place that gently calls you to prayer, it’s a church. The more we pray here, the more it will be. Our church is open whenever the daycare is open, and you’re welcome to come pray in the sanctuary any time. Some churches even have special rooms set aside for 24/7 prayer, and many have benches around the outside for people to come sit and pray. We don’t have to be at church to pray, but sometimes it helps.
We can pray wherever and whenever, inside or outside. With words, or no words. With music or in silence. We can write our prayers, or draw them. We can pray while walking or running, sitting, lying down, standing, dancing. In the middle of a tough conversation with someone, we might be praying for God to help us.
I have struggled this past year with prayer. Depression makes it hard. Writing used to help but even that was hard. Really hard. So I did some drawing. I asked my husband Rob to come say prayers with me. And some days I just had to trust that God was still there and knew what I needed even thought I couldn’t figure out how to say it. I am thankful to be in a better place now, and I’m thankful for all those who prayed for me and helped me get help. If you’re in that place, don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For all of us, keep on praying.
The disciples were praying while they were waiting for Pentecost. Since next Sunday we’ll be celebrating Pentecost, let’s be doing some extra praying this week.
What would help you to pray this week?
Prayer beads, rocks, prayer lists, playlists
Cover photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifted_(2006_film) Movie poster by Pixar, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31473936
 Psalm 31:15 (NKJV) “My times are in Your hand…”
 Photo by Gracious Adebayo on Unsplash
 Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash
 Lucado, Max. Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe (Heavenly) (pp. 72-74). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
 Photo by Worshae on Unsplash
 Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (p. 25). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
 Photo by Ben White on Unsplash