- Have you ever spent so much time focused on getting to the goal that once you achieved it, you had no idea what came next? The new career mother, who has looked forward to the birth of their first child, returns home with baby in tow; she has all her friends and relatives there for a celebration of those first wonderful days. Then that first Monday morning rolls around, hubby heads off to work, the door closes, and suddenly it hits her: “I’m not going back to work, not for a long time.” Then, that most human question hits her dead in the face: “NOW WHAT?”
- Or the graduating senior, walks across the stage, picks up their diploma, smiles this huge smile of relief, pauses at the end for the picture next to the U.S. flag, walks back to their chair in the auditorium, and sits down. Once they take a breath or two, the dawning realization hits them like a sledgehammer: “Now what?” I don’t have to wake up tomorrow early for classes. I don’t have to get my books for the next cycle of classes, etc. Now what?
- The couple who just had a huge fight, have come to an initial truce, now look at each other in the bright light of morning. And the question that hangs unspoken in that silence is like an axe ready to fall: Now what?
- The man who just worked his last day of his life on Friday and wakes up on Monday morning with one thought: Now what?
- And our stories from the Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s gospel show the disciples facing the exact same: “Now what?” question.
In the reading from Acts, you kind of get the sense they weren’t quite ready for the moment of Jesus’ leaving them. They were still asking questions about when Jesus would restore the political kingdom. Jesus kind of ignores that question and speaks to them about being clothed with power from on high, and the promised gift of the Spirit. And then he was gone. He was gone. And they didn’t quite get it. So they stand there, mouths open, gaping at the heavens.
God, with his usual patience, sends two more heavenly visitors. “Men of Jerusalem, why are you standing around looking up to the heavens?” Don’t you understand, it’s “Now what” time. It’s time to get to work. The training is over. The one on-one-counseling is done. Clothed with power from on high, the mission is yours now to accept and undertake. You’ve got your diploma, your working visa, and the only tool you’ll ever need – the gift of the Spirit. Now it is time to get busy living and loving for the kingdom.
The feast of the Ascension we celebrate today comes like one of those “Now what?” moments, to move us off of square one right smack dab into the middle of the hard work of life and the kingdom. And what I propose to you is this: Today, the “Now what?” question becomes the “What now?” question.
So, what now are we going to do about the continuation of the death penalty in the state when the latest evidence tells us that it is still unfairly applied and innocent people are still being put to death? What now are we going to do to stem the endless tide of pornography that is only a click or two away from the computers that our children use unsupervised at home? What now will we do to follow up on the Pope’s document – Laudato Si – about befriending this planet and doing all we can to recycle, to protect the environment, to leave behind a better world for our children’s children. What now will you do to be reconciled with that roommate or sibling or spouse that you haven’t spoken to in the last three weeks? What now will you do since you have graduated from St. Justin Martyr school and are heading to a public high school, to continue the life of faith you’ve known these past years? What now? What now? What now? The list goes on and on.
You see, it is Ascension Sunday, and Jesus stands at this altar, waiting to clothe us with power, waiting to give us his Body and Blood for nourishment, waiting to send the promised Spirit into our lives. And then he has one tiny, little two word question to ask of us: Now What?