On My Mind These Days

Every single year, one of the great mysteries of Easter for
me has to do with Eastertide, and not so much with Easter per se. And every
year, as I make my way through the daily propers and the Sabbath texts, I feel
the same need to say, “But…..”

I never say it, of course, but…

But I want to say it here, now, with these pixels. Then maybe I’ll get it out of my system before
this time next year.

My restiveness [for it is more a matter of restiveness than
anything else] is that once we get done with the Resurrection, we 21st
century Christians just coast along until we hit Pentecost. At that point, we
grab up all the red wearing apparel we can lay hands on and then go toodling
out the door to observe what we think of as the third in the trio of the
faith’s high holy days, Pentecost being right on up there with Easter and
Christmas in the telling of our tale.

Well, that’s all fine and good with me, except for the fact
that what we just did was zip right by Ascension. We nod at it in passing, of
course, but we never do we stop and say, “Oh, my God!” And, it seems to me that
a horrified and awe-struck, “Oh, my God!” is more appropriate to Ascension than
it is to almost any other day in the liturgical year.

The truth of the thing is that Easter and Resurrection must
have been, and are, pivotal moments to live through….startling, disconcerting,
joyful, unsettling, confusing. I can think of all kinds of words for what it
must have been like for those men and women who had loved, followed, and
worshipped Jesus of Nazareth. The canonical gospels tell us all of this and
more. But they also tell us about men, who in their confusion, left the joy of
resurrection and went back to fishing, for heaven’s sakes! In fact, the
canonicals tell us several stories about their going back to fishing and life as
usual, even while they were spending social time with the risen Lord, including
time on the sea shore eating fish He had cooked for them.

The disconnect for them and the one we seem almost willfully
determined to forget is that while resurrection was a big deal for our original
forebears as Jesus-worshippers, it was hardly without precedent. Those Jewish
men and women had grown up on the stories of other resurrections. Most notably,
they had known from childhood the story of how the Witch of Endor had conjured
the ghost of the prophet Samuel to counsel King Saul. And even if somehow they
had missed all of that in their religious rearing—a highly unlikely
omission—they certainly had been there when Lazarus came out of his tomb. They
had eaten and socialized with him too.

This is not to say—Good Lord, it most surely is not!—this is
not to say that Easter is not to be honored and observed with every part of our
being. It is. This is just to say that Easter has a denouement; and as every
faithful and avid theatre-goer will tell you, the climax without its perfected
denouement  is a climax without effect or impact or even purpose.

What those men and women who were the first of our kind saw
forty days after the Resurrection was what they had not seen before. What they
witnessed was their God bodily moving into His Kingdom and calling to them,
even as He did so, to go forth and be His. It is at that moment in our history
that they ceased to fish or maintain lives separate from Him and each other. It
is on that– and in that– moment that they are galvanized and, being
galvanized, they immediately go together into the Upper Room to pray and wait
and pray again. They were waiting for Holy Spirit, but they were also becoming
church. Pentecost would come to a people prepared simply because they had seen
Ascension. The denouement had been well-written, and it had done its job.
…which is what I have always wanted to say about Eastertide
with its strangely flat ordinariness and its glory-filled second climax.

About Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle , founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, the international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic media, and innumerable blogs and web sites. Tickle is an authority on religion in America and a much sought after lecturer on the subject.

  • Peter Ceren

    The very human response to the Resurrection after their imagined kingdom was shattered a few days before left them disillusioned and isolated and totally disorganized and unable to go on the way they thought made sense. Thank goodness. A little nudging and coaxing brought them together to become the people here in real life that had to find a way to make life work within this new mystery. There was no guide book, just a bunch of memories that they had often paid little attention to that now they were required to reconstruct and build the story from the stories of the story. Like children sent off to college who needed a few final instructions from their parents that only now were they ready to understand. Now they had seen and now they had what they needed to build a life and a work alone. It was a graduation ceremony where the teacher was the one to leave in the most dramatic pomp and circumstance ever. And that final graduation address to set them on their way to be the Church.

  • Cathy Cox

    I am pretty sure that neither the calling up of the witch of Endor nor the raising of Lazarus meant to the disciples what teh resurrection did – neither were actually resurrections – and teh texts make it clear that they didn’t expect anything at all – especially nto this changed body that could eat fish ASND walk through walls – who was teh same, but nto the same – etc – but I totally agree that Ascension cannot be missed – and we do NTOmiss it here – because it leads directly to Pentecost- without the Ascension, Pentecost – which to my mind is the fulfillment of both incarnation AND resurrection – could not happen – the Holy Spirit, whom Paul calls the Spirit of JEsus sent/poured out to fill the whole earth – so that there is no where now that Jesus is not – if only we had eyes to see…flames of fire and drenching rain and fierce wind – – ah, I love it!


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