In many ways, deacons are the conductors of liturgy. Their proclamations set the spiritual atmosphere and tone of the liturgy. They provide mental and spiritual guidance on when to pray and for what to pray -“Yev yevus khaghaghootyan uzDer aghachestzook” (again in peace let us beseech the Lord), and they also guide our physical posture, movement and engagement with the liturgy with instructions, such as “Adoodzo yergurbakestsook” (let us bow down to God), “harach madeek yev surpootyamp haghortetsarook” (in fear and in faith draw near and communicate in holiness). Most of the deacons’ proclamations in the Armenian Church end with a very peculiar request and instruction – “Let us commit ourselves and one another to the Lord God almighty”. In a liturgy not only we are drawn and lifted up to the depths of God’s grace and sacramental mystery by His living presence in the church, but also by embracing and committing each other to the Lord and ascending to his loving heart and presence as one body of Christ, holding and lifting each other up.
Without doubt ascension is a story of joy, victory, celebrating liberation, freedom and the completion of our Lord’s earthly ministry. But to me, there is also immense sadness in the story. The Savior that the disciples came to know as a friend, teacher and a source of strength was being taken away from them once again. In the ascension story we see clearly that there was still much they did not fully understand and comprehend about Christ’s teaching and their own ministry and calling. The disciples, as a group, as a spiritual family were broken and wounded by the betrayal of one of their own, by the grief of witnessing Christ’s passion and crucifixion, by the absence of their beloved teacher and by the uncertainty the future held for them. But despite lacking in the fullness of understanding and faith, despite their wounds and all obstacles ahead they had something very precious and sacred -they had each other.
Christ understood how vulnerable his children, his beloved disciples were, how likely they were to give up on hope, scatter and return to their homes and ordinary lives. Therefore, his last wish and exhortation was for the disciples to stay together and stay in Jerusalem. And surely, after ascension, we see them returning to Jerusalem, staying together in the Upper Room, which probably was the very same place they celebrated the Eucharist during the Last Supper.
Jerusalem was a dark place for the disciples, associated with loss, sadness and betrayal. But it was only by revisiting this dark place and chapter of their lives that they would find closure. Through coming together and embracing each other’s pain in the Eucharist atmosphere of the Upper Room they would be restored. Through choosing a new disciple to replace Judas they would heal their ranks and the wound of betrayal. And through committing themselves and each other to the Lord they would receive the Holy Spirit and empowerment to reach the farthest corners of the earth to proclaim the Gospel and convert kingdoms and empires.
We too, are a spiritual family brought together by our faith, hope and trust in our Lord and Savior. We too, have an Upper Room where we gather every Sunday to commune to the life-giving body and blood of our Lord. We too, can only find healing and empowerment through staying together, supporting and caring for each other. The path to heaven often passes through the person next to us on a pew, through the person sitting across the hall during the fellowship hour to whom we never quite get to talk to. We, as a community need this spiritual embrace of love and compassion now more than ever. Through a quick call, email to a person from our community, especially to one outside of our circle of friends and one we don’t really know well, we become instruments of God’s healing touch. Through committing “ourselves and one another to the Lord God almighty”, through holding onto one another and lifting each other up we can experience the power of ascension in our parish life by reaching into the heavens and stepping into the presence of our Lord and Savior.