On Sunday we celebrated the ascension of Jesus.
We sang and prayed and proclaimed that Jesus has toppled the powers of sin and death in the heavenly places and is reigning as true king, mending all that is so terribly wrong in the world.
But we worship in an elementary school, and so in the wake of Uvalde, celebrating the ascension felt a little different. Our prayers and songs were accompanied by tears, and I’m not sure I’ve ever sung “Crown Him with Many Crowns” so longingly; not a hint of triumph, but an aching plea for Jesus to make his reign real.
How can we proclaim the reign of the true king in a place that has become sadly synonymous with the reign of evil, sin, and death? And more importantly, how can we not just proclaim it, but live it? How do we live under the peaceable, just, loving reign of Jesus in a world of violence?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we make the gospel livable, visible in our midst. As I consider my own heroes in the faith — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, Henri Nouwen, and others — what they all have in common is a courageous willingness to act, speak, risk, love, and forgive as though the gospel were really true. I long and pray to live this way. I long for our church to live this way. I long for Incarnation to be an outpost of Jesus’ kingdom in the places it feels furthest away and hardest to imagine, and for us to be a community of people who live under the upside-down reign of Jesus.
So I’m particularly grateful that Sunday is Pentecost. Because we can’t live this way on our own; we need the Spirit’s power. On Pentecost, we remember the way the Spirit broke through language and ethnic barriers to communicate the gospel to everyone present. Our service will include children’s voices, sensory elements, and different languages so that we see the Spirit’s power to communicate to all people, regardless of developmental stage, ability, or language.
There will also be a time in the service to ask the Holy Spirit for gifts, using Isaiah 11:2-3 as our guide (read more about these gifts in this post from our first Pentecost, and enjoy seeing how much our kids have grown since then!). What gifts will you ask the Spirit to give?
And gifts are meant to be opened, used, and enjoyed — so instead of a sermon, we will enjoy the Spirit’s gifts through a time of open sharing. Perhaps the Spirit will surprise you this week with a gentle nudge to share something with our community. Below are questions to contemplate in preparation for Sunday:
Do you have a story of a time you’ve seen the Holy Spirit move powerfully in the past few months? Sometimes hearing stories can help us imagine what God might do in fresh ways.
Where are you asking the Holy Spirit to move powerfully now? Is there an area of global or personal concern you'd like to share so we can share this longing, this burden together?
What do you hear the Holy Spirit saying to the Incarnation community today? Scripture, images, words, phrases for our community are all very welcome, and we will practice discernment together as we filter what is shared.
In other news…
Want to understand the ascension a little better? I preached on it last year: listen here. (Unfortunately David’s sermon from Sunday didn’t record due to our technical issues, but we’re hoping to get a fresh recording out soon!)
Child Safety Training will take place on Sunday, June 12, immediately after the service. This training is part of how we work to protect our kids at Incarnation. It’s required every 2 years for anyone who volunteers with our kids, and we recommend everyone take the training at least once to better understand how to keep our kids safe as we all worship together. Sign up here. Questions? Ask Ginny (firstname.lastname@example.org)
And speaking of protecting our children…you may have heard of the abuse investigation currently underway in our province (we first wrote to you about this in a post last year). As a sexual abuse survivor myself, and as someone who has pastored many survivors, I am freshly heartbroken by every new development in this unfolding story. I am praying daily, sometimes hourly, for truth to come to light, for healing for the survivors, for justice for all involved, and for safe, transparent, healthy practices across our province that protect the vulnerable. You can read our own church’s approach to abuse here. And if you would like to pray for this situation, a group of people from across the province are gathering every Wednesday from 12-12:30pm over Zoom to pray. This prayer time is open to all, clergy and laypeople, men and women, and you can sign up here for the weekly Zoom link (the form requests your diocese; we are in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic). Although this time conflicts with our weekly staff meetings, I am hoping to make it to at least one or two. If you do go, please let me know! And if you would like to discuss this issue at all, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
I wish Jesus’ kingdom was fully in our midst now. I wish I didn’t need to write about sexual abuse and mass shootings. But even here, especially here — amidst all that is so horribly wrong in the world — we can make the upside-down kingdom visible. We can be a community that courageously acts, speaks, risks, loves, and forgives as though the gospel were really true.
Come, Holy Spirit!