Rev. Paula Sohl
“When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” This was one of my favorite images from Sunday School as a child. Especially, because of the next sentence where the angels said that said he would return in the same way. So I wondered if it was like a Star Trek “beam me up, Scotty” kind of leaving, or more like levitation, or like an elevator up, and someday an elevator down… Anyhow I was always curious how Jesus would come back, appearing in the clouds, and returning to the earth again.
It seems the idea of the Holy One in the clouds was not a new one. In the call to worship we read today the ancients’ description of the One who rides upon the clouds and whose power is in the clouds. In the stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, a pillar of cloud represented the presence of God and went before the people to guide them. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament of the Bible describes all our ancestors in faith as the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us, and shares with us in the hopes and expectations of our life of faith.
We hear about “the cloud” all the time these days, where information can be stored and be accessible from remote locations.
“Cloud computing involves computing over a network, where a program or application may run on many connected computers at the same time…In common usage the term “the cloud” is essentially a metaphor for the Internet.”
This new cloud metaphor is interesting to hold in tension with the ancient metaphor of the Holy One who rides upon the cloud and whose power is in the clouds. Yet the actual scientific explanation of the life cycle of a real visible cloud in the sky is what I find most useful for unpacking this cryptic scene of Jesus, lifted up into a cloud, and leaving his followers behind to receive the Holy Spirit and become witnesses to the ends of the earth.
When we lose someone we love, as the disciples lost the physical presence of Jesus, that person enters a cloud of sorts. I am sure of that as I feel the love and the lessons from Pam that have remained so present with me throughout this first week of her absence.
There is a way in which we have the presence of that person even more accessible as we rely on what they have left within us, rather than run to them to do or say the wise things that we know they know to do or say. We can check in with the cloud and say, what would Pam do or what might Pam say? And then we can rely on ourselves, with that inspiration, to do what we know to do or to say.
We all have a host of saints to consult. What would my grandma say if I could ask her advice? What did Jesus do when he was tired, when he was asked a question, when he needed to feed people, when someone needed a healing touch? What might he do if faced with the situation I am in? What about the disciples? How did they manage after Jesus disappeared into the cloud?
The disciples of Jesus knew exactly what to do when his physical presence was lost to them. We read, “Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”
We hear all of these men’s names: these disciples who were gathered, “devoting themselves to prayer,” with some women and Jesus’ mother. Except for Mary, the women’s names are not listed. But women’s names leak out throughout the books of the New Testament, as the nascent church learned about recognizing and valuing the gifts of all Jesus’ followers. We do know the names of some of the women who were followers of Jesus and who became important leaders in the early church communities.
I would like you to sing with me two simple songs that remind us of the names of the men disciples as well as the women disciples, who are all part of the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.
Mary the Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of Jesus,
Joanna, Susanna, Salome and Martha,
Pheobe, Priscilla and Lydia.
Samaritan woman at the well,
and the one who anointed and loved him so well
Phillip and Thomas, Thadeus and Andrew,
James the Greater and Less,
Matthew and Peter, Simon and John,
Bartholomew and Judas
These followers constantly devoted themselves to prayer and that’s how they were ready to notice when the Holy Spirit swept in in a dramatic way on Pentecost and they got clearer on what they were meant to be doing.
Of all the things I know and love and treasure about Pam, I appreciate most that she was a person of prayer and meditation. Her ministry among us was grounded in her practice of prayer. She didn’t expect to be of service unless she was regularly connected to the cloud where Holy Mystery moves and speaks and loves.
Our practices of prayer can be ways to evaporate into the cloud of being in the presence of the Holy. Somehow we have company there. Our lives, our being, gets mixed up with all the other drops of witnesses to God’s work in our beautiful and broken world. Then we rain back down as we become soothing water for the growth and nurture of others.
This leaving has been painful for many of us. For some, Pam may have been the only minister we have trusted and an important link in our connection to God. This time of mourning can be unmooring and the future unknown.
Chaplain Fred Grewe, in his work with people who are dying, has learned that “the real wisdom we learn in life…comes through where we suffered.” He teaches that our sufferings become the jewels, the precious stuff, that we can offer to others as we bless them.
We bless others by knowing their names, noticing and naming how they are gifted, supporting their growth and development and opportunity. We have a special chance in this community to be a blessing to the many children who grace us with their participation here.
Lloyd DeMause, a theorist in psychohistory writes, “The evolution of culture is ultimately determined by the amount of love, understanding, and freedom experienced by its children … Every abandonment, every betrayal, every hateful act towards children returns tenfold a few decades later upon the historical stage, while every empathetic act that helps a child become what he or she wants to become, every expression of love toward children heals society and moves it in unexpected, wondrous new directions.”
That rings true for me.
The blessing we do here connects us to our history and to the future and binds us to the ever-cycling cloud of God’s presence and God’s people, the body of Christ we share with one another.
Pam blessed us in her leaving, freely offering us the gifts of letting us know how much she has loved us and telling us of the beauty she has seen in us.
Now in our suffering, we have new insights to share, and we have new opportunities to pass on our blessings like a fresh sprinkling of rain, a splash of baptismal waters, or a cup of cool water as we tend this body of Christ that together we are. It’s a good day for us to celebrate communion.