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On Thursday, when we celebrated Ascension Day, I pointed out that Luke takes great descriptive care to be sure we engage and understand this ascension moment. In my many travels through airports, I have seen innumerable farewells at the departure gate. Some, I agree, are perfunctory but the really meaningful ones are when the person saying goodbye, man or woman, boy or girl, lingers long after the passenger has gone through; they stand on tip-toe or crane their necks form side to side hoping to catch an extra glimpse through the crowd or on a walkway and then when all chances of another sighting, a final wave or an extra blown kiss have passed, they stay looking at the space, the doorway perhaps, simply remembering.
Such are the disciples, looking intently up into the sky as a cloud hid him from their sight. The picture strikes us as completely true, exactly what we expect when someone we love leaves us; his farewell speech ringing in our ears.
And from now on a page is turned, the disciples have their instructions. They return to Jerusalem, which is a Sabbath day’s journey away to wait. At this particular time of year (early June), as you know later than usual for Eastertide and for Ascension day, we can maybe better empathise with this period of waiting. Many of our children or grandchildren are in the middle of important exams, GCSEs, A-levels or perhaps University finals and soon for them will come a period of waiting. Not, we hope, a period of idleness but quite likely one of uncertainty. “Will my results be good enough? Will I be able to stay on in the sixth form? Can I go to the college of my choice? Will I do well enough for the job that I want?” and common to all “What will this new thing, this new phase of my life be like?”
The disciples, Mary and the others, must have worried in this way. Their teacher and Lord had gone and the next steps were unclear. Worse, they had no date when the brown envelope would fall on the mat. The Holy Spirit was promised but what receiving the Spirit it would be like, how it would happen and when they could expect it, were mysteries to them all. How did they cope with this? Well, at the beginning of this new period of their lives, at the beginning of Luke’s great account of the Acts of the Apostles, the first thing they do, the way they prepare for the events to come and their first recorded act is that with one accord they devoted themselves to prayer.
John’s Gospel records Jesus too praying, he prays to the Father “I am coming to the Holy Father, keep them in my name which thou hast given me that they may be one as we are one.”
So before any great endeavour, it seems clear that if we follow Jesus’ teaching and the example of both our Lord and the Apostles, we should pray; we pray that our thoughts and actions may be directed by God, that they be pleasing in his sight and that we will follow his paths. But notice we are not praying alone but as one. “As one accord they devoted themselves to prayer”
Let us pray together now: