Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension when Jesus ascended to heaven. This feast is normally celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter. It is one of the earliest Christian festivals and dates back to 68 CE. Jesus wanted to teach his disciples how they could pass on his message. He took them to the Mount of Olives where they watched him ascend to heaven – which is what Ascension Day marks. The day also marks the end of the Easter season and takes place 10 days before Pentecost. Ascension Day is also known as Holy Thursday, Ascension Thursday, and The Feast of Ascension, the day when he was taken up to heaven after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” He said. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He was then lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
The scripture for this day offered a choice of two psalms, each of which asks us to sing praises to God, the great king of all the earth, a great king robed in majesty.
In the epistle you heard Paul’s praise of the Ephesians’ faith and his pledge to remember them in his prayers, prayers which include the hope that Jesus would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that, with the eyes of their hearts enlightened, they might know the hope to which Christ had called them.
Our gospel speaks of the instructions given to the disciples about the fulfillment of prophecies, the understanding of scripture, the coming trials He would face and His blessing on them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
In addition to celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, we also celebrate, congratulate and appreciate all who are mothers and all who have mothered. It is Mother’s Day. That day needs no explanation. On special occasions like today, most of us expose our feelings openly. We show our love to mothers with cards, flowers and gifts. Every Mother’s Day I point out that mother’s love is the closest thing I can think of to God’s love. It is unconditional and it is free. One does not have to pay for it and it never goes away even if those who receive it behaves badly. There are other elements of that love. Like the justice system, a mother’s love serves, protects and defends. Like the Good Shepherd, a mother would lay down her life for her children. If they get lost, she will find them and bring them back into the fold. She knows their voices and they know hers. Finally, like the father of the prodigal son, a mother will wrap her arms around a child and throw a party for them even when they return home ashamed about wasting their money and time on raucous living.
Whether on earth or in Heaven, the love of a mother never fades. Biological mothers or someone else who did for us what biological mothers do, raised us, nurtured us, uplifted us and sacrificed for us. As long as they felt the joy, suffered the heartache and committed themselves to tend, nurse, mind and raise us they qualify as mother.
We celebrate Mother’s Day today in one of the richest countries in the world. Most of us live in the midst of plenty. However, we need to curb our extravagance lest we deplete the resources needed to keep us alive. We need to show love for God’s creation… love the earth and its bounty. We need to remember the farmers and factory workers who provide us with the food we need to nourish our physical bodies. We need to remember that Jesus came down to let the frost, the winds and dews, gentle air, sunshine and rain to help the earth yield fruit so that we might feed ourselves and the poor.
As we continue on the subject of Mother’s Day, let us remember these words from a song by Howard Johnson:
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be, Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,” A word that means the world to me.
Love is a versatile word — like what it describes. Love takes many forms, but the word typically describes an affection that is deep and emotional. Love is a complex set of emotions, it is particular behavior, and its beliefs are associated with strong feelings of affection, protectiveness, warmth, and respect for another person. To love is to feel and act lovingly. Real love is of the heart, and is a feeling that is the result of your intention to be loving.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we extended the feelings we feel on Mother’s Day to friends, family, colleagues and neighbors? It would be marvelous if we lived in harmony with all racial and ethnic groups and if we put our efforts into trying to make drugs and violence disappear. This is the kind of world Jesus died that we might have. And we can have it if we stop distrusting and disregarding our brothers and sisters; if we stop hiding our lights under bushes, refusing to share our talents freely and withholding forgiveness from those who wrong us. That would be unconditional love and unconditional love is difficult for us humans to achieve. The process is difficult. What mother has not at one time or another experienced or felt they were approaching a slight nervous breakdown because of her “precious ones”? Someone explained to me at a time I was proudly proclaiming the joys of “grandmotherhood” that grandchildren were were God’s reward for not having killed our own children. That’s a bit extreme, but staying in a right relationship with children tends, at times to be difficult. How much more difficult, then, it must be to achieve that love in other situations? We must remember that love and light casts out darkness and fear. We shine that light during the Christmas season, on Easter and on Mother’s Day which means that we have the capacity to light up our world and each other’s hearts. Therefore, let us pray that we will love God in all things and above all things so that we can obtain God’s promises which exceed all we can desire. We pray this way because, despite the difficulty of practicing unconditional love, any mother will tell you that it’s worth the trouble. Nothing of value is achieved easily, not even love. For the sake of love, we are often in pain, in tears. For the sake of love, we experience anger and encounter misery. For the sake of love, God sent God’s son, Jesus Christ, to pay the ultimate price, the giving up of His life. This being the case, it is not unreasonable that God would command us to love one another. Just as God loves us unconditionally and a mother loves her child unconditionally, we are charged to love each other unconditionally. So, on this Mother’s Day and on each day of each year, let us not just show regard for mothers, but for ALL! Let us remember that silly irritating habits are no cause not to love friends, family and each person with whom we live and work. We must have compassion for even those we do not know. This means that we must love ourselves because there is no love for others if we do not hold ourselves in high esteem. And, our love be extended to all of God’s creation, not just humans. We must love the earth and its fullness. And finally, above all else, we must love God. The challenges to fulfilling this love are many but love conquers the challenges.
You remember that I pointed out that God’s love and Mother’s is free. Therefore, I end my sermon with the words to another song. It’s called “No Charge” and for it, we can thank Shirley Caesar and songwriter Harlan Howard:
My sister’s little boy came in the kitchen one evening While she was fixing supper And he handed her a piece paper he had been writing on
And after wiping her hands on an apron, She took it in her hands and read it And this is what it said: For mowing the yard five dollars;And for making up my own bed this week one dollar; For going to the store fifty cents And playing with little brother while you went shopping twenty five cents; Taking out the trash one dollar; And for getting a good report card five dollars; And for raking the yard two dollars; Total owed $114.75.
Well, she looked at him standing there and expecting
And a thousand memories flashed through her mind. So she picked up pen and turned the paper over and this is what she wrote:
For the nine months I carried you holding you inside me $ no charge
For the nights I sat up with you, doctored you and prayed for you $ no charge. For the time and tears and the costs through the years there is no charge. When you add it all up the full cost of my love is $ no charge. For the nights filled with grey And the worries ahead
For the advice and the knowledge And the costs of your college
There is no charge. For the toys, school, and clothes And for wiping your nose , There’s no charge son. When you add it all the full cost of my love is no charge
Well, you know when I think about that, I think about the day that Jesus went out to Calvary and gave his life as a ransom for me.
When I think on the words “if any man be in Christ he’s a new creature”, I like to think about the very minute that he shed his blood my debt was paid in full. And I want you to know today When you add it all up The full cost of real love is no charge.
Now if any of you are looking for real love, If you want real love maybe
and if your hearts are free… If you want real love baby, Pretend you’re a flower so you can attract a bee.
Love is much older than you and me
When you’re in love, you’re alive…You belong to the stars and the sky
So, if you’re looking for real love, love God, love the earth and all of
God’s creation, love yourself, love your neighbor and, above all, love your mother. Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Katherine Ward