I am a professional procrastinator. Though I normally push assignments and tasks off till the absolute last possible moment, I actually managed to begin writing this sermon about three weeks ago. I met with Father Christian, discussed the guidelines, and even had half of a rough draft for him two weeks ago. I was on schedule and successfully writing a sermon, till I did nothing to the sermon for the next two weeks. That’s right. I utterly ignored the impending doom of delivering this sermon for two blissful weeks, until yesterday afternoon, when reality descended upon me. I all of a sudden realized that tomorrow was the day I had to stand in front of you and deliver wisdom and insight on a gospel reading I didn’t fully understand. Honestly, the person I most related to in the gospel reading was Thomas, as he asks Jesus “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” The fact that I connected with the most confused person in the gospel wasn’t very comforting, yet I clung to that relationship desperately. As a solid cradle Episcopalian, I went through eight years of Catechesis, and I believe Sabra Martin would be over joyed to hear that I still remember that this Thomas is Doubting Thomas, who got his nickname for his inability to believe in the Risen Lord until he had seen and physically touched the Lord’s hands and pierced sides. The more I ruminated on Thomas late last night, the worse I felt for him. Thomas really got the short end of the stick in terms of nicknames. The poor guy seems to have been plagued by questions the other disciples don’t seem to have, or are not willing to ask out loud. Personally, if I were in Thomas’s sandals, I would probably ask the same questions. I believe Thomas was more curious than anything else, and that is a trait I can relate to as well. Growing up, I have spent many hours in church, staring around the sanctuary during sermons, wondering why things are the way they are. For example, I only understood the Easter window, off to my right, about a month ago. I have always wondered why there was a bird on fire for the Easter window. Wouldn’t an empty tomb or maybe an angel at the tomb be a better representation of the resurrection? It finally occurred to me that the bird on fire is most probably a phoenix, mythical birds that burst into flames and resurrect in cycles during their lifetimes. With the resurrecting bird connecting with the resurrecting Lord, one question out of a hundred was answered for me; however, many more remain. Thomas’s question of “How can we know the way” is a perfectly legitimate one, and I think the only way to know the answer to this is to know and understand our individual pasts in order to move forward.
Mr. Garvey told me on Friday that life is like a journey down a river, except we are floating backward and can only see where we have been. For me, I was born and raised in this magnificent church, spending the grand majority of services either in the Roddy family pew or up on the alter acolyting. I have been an acolyte for thirteen years, and have moved up in the ranks from banner to crucifer. As many of you read in my Lenton reflection, while I love acolyting, I actively avoid being clergy crucifer so as to avoid awkwardly holding the Gospel and not knowing where to look. Besides acolyting, I attended Catechesis and eventually graduated up to regular Sunday school. Although the location of the services has been constant throughout my entire life, the content and experiences I have gotten from Ascension has changed over the years. I think my Episcopalian experience has been slightly unique in the large number of priests I have lived through in my short eighteen years at Ascension. I first remember Ladson, the ex-military rector. Father Ladson firmly believed that church was a punctual business, with services beginning at 10 o’clock and ending right at 11 o’clock. He would even speed read the communion and sending forth prayer if it looked like we were behind schedule. My younger self loved this punctuality and dedication to predictable one-hour services. Ladson also had a select number of hymns he enjoyed singing, and so we sung them regularly. My family joking called them “Ladson’s Greatest Hits,” and when one of them is chosen, we can quite often sing them without a hymnal. After Ladson, we had the wonderful, old Father Mervin. Mervin hailed from Ireland, and had an extremely thick Irish accent to prove it. He always said, “May the peace of the Lord be always wish you.” When Father Howard arrived at Ascension when I was in Middle School, I was taken aback. My sisters and I teasing called him “Mr. Spiritual” because he didn’t have an affection for punctual one-hour services and would often stop the service and ask the congregation to simply “feel the holy spirit among us.” For me, that was a major shock to the system; however, Father Howard, I really do love your spiritual, loving ways. Though Ascension has changed as the different rectors took residence in the sanctuary, many attributes have stayed the same, most notably Christ’s presence in this blessed sanctuary.
Today, especially, is a turning point in my life. This afternoon, I graduate from High School and leave behind eighteen years of life in Knoxville, moving forward to my next adventure. I am actually formally extending an invitation to anyone who wants to join the festivities at Webb today at 3:00 pm. I have sincerely loved my childhood here at Ascension, but now I will be moving to Houston, Texas to attend Rice University next fall. Although I have done all the reading, filled out the correct forms, and visited the campus, I still do not really know what the next four years will hold for me. Similar to Thomas, I am concerned about not knowing the way, and the lack of certainty makes me nervous. Even though I solidly know where I come from, the future remains mysterious, and no amount of preparation can erase that doubt and concern. I guess the answer to my questions lies in plain sight, per usual, when it comes to the gospel readings. Jesus tells the disciples “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." Though on his way to the Ascension, Jesus still comforts the disciples and assures them of his presence in their uncertain futures without him. No matter what, He will always be there for our time of need, just as he was for the disciples so long ago. In true Father Howard fashion, I would like to close with a group prayer. Will you please bow your head.
“Lord God, thank you for today. Thank you for this gathering of the Youth to demonstrate their love of this parish and of You, Lord. Thank you for this loving and welcoming congregation and clergy that helped me through this sermon. Please guide and protect us in the coming months, making your presence be known. Please help us to feel less like Doubting Thomas and more confident in our decisions as we ask You to be more involved in our lives. And finally, Please watch over and protect us until we can come together again to worship you. In Your name I pray, Amen.