May 19—Ascension


While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven…
Luke 24:51

Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

Yesterday, the Church observed the Feast of the Ascension. It always falls on the 40th day after Easter and marks the significant movement from Jesus’ earthly ministry to his glorification and being “seated at the right hand of God.” The story is told three times in the New Testament: in Luke 24:44-53; in Acts:1:1-11 and in Mark 16:19–20, the so-called “longer ending of Mark,” which most biblical scholars agree was added to the original ending of Mark well after the Gospel was in circulation, likely because many in the early church felt the original ending of Mark at 16:8 was abrupt and not very satisfying. That’s a topic for another day.

Ascension of Jesus icon, Lattakia (1667)

The Ascension of Jesus is an enigmatic, puzzling, mysterious event. Clearly it has a strong relationship with the well-known story of the prophet Elijah’s begin taken up to heaven “by a whirlwind” and Elijah’s “mantle” being passed on to his successor, Elisha (See 2 Kings 1–15). Each served God’s purposes on earth. Each was raised by and in God to a different state of existence, Jesus to a place of glorification and exaltation at the right hand of God.

Elijah and Jesus accomplished what they had been called to do on earth. In both instances their earthly work was passed on to others. Elijah’s mantle was passed on to Elisha. Jesus’ was passed on to the disciples at Pentecost who, at Pentecost, received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit and were sent forth to be Christ’s witnesses (martyrs!), “in all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson observes, “The ascension…does not signal a removal of Jesus from the story, but symbolizes his presence in a new mode. The ascension accounts provide a bridge between the appearances to witnesses and Jesus’ presence to the community through the Holy Spirit.” Johnson calls the new era of Jesus’ mission and ministry, “the period of the church” noting that “it is a period not of Jesus’ absence but of his presence in a new and powerful way.”[1]

You and I are the most recent inheritors of the mission and ministry that Jesus handed on to his disciples. We are those called to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth, ” beginning in New Jersey.

Moreover, while the Jesus’ ascension marks a transition for him, his ascent to heaven and God’s right hand, the promise he made to his followers in Matthew’s Gospel still holds true: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). It is this promise which adds to the mysteriousness of his ascension. One of the collects for the Feast of the Ascension captures this well:

 Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his
promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end
of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory
everlasting. Amen.

In the Diocese of New Jersey, we are currently in the midst of transition and change as my time as Bishop of New Jersey draws to a close and we move closer to Bishop-Elect Sally French’s consecration on June 24, the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. God is up to something new in the Diocese of New Jersey, indeed in The Episcopal Church and in the wider world. We are in what some might refer to as “liminal space.” According to one expert, “This is where one thing ends and another is about to begin, but you are not quite there yet, you are in the space between.”[2] This liminality is not merely about a change in bishops, it’s about a world that has been changed by COVID19, a world where traditional understandings of faith and values are undergoing a radical shift, a world where new generations are rising to the forefront. For many, this is unsettling. Fear not. Jesus words still hold true, “I am with you, to the end of the ages.”

The Farewell Gala celebrating the ministries of Bishop Stokes, Mrs. Susan Stokes, Canon Ann Notte, and Canon Mary Ann Rhoads, and featuring keynote speaker, Bishop MIchael Curry, will be live on the diocesan Web site Sunday at 7:00 at

Tomorrow, my family and I will be saying our final farewell to my mother in a small memorial service in New York City and welcome your prayers for us. This is liminal space for us as well. We are also grateful that most of our children, their spouses, and two of our three grandchildren will stay on and join us for the Gala on Sunday (one grandchild had to stay behind because of finals and we will miss him) when we, together with many of you, will celebrate our ministry together over these past years, celebrate the incredible long-term ministries of Canons Mary Ann Rhoads and Ann Notte, be joined by our phenomenal Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, and lift up the important and vital ministry of Episcopal Community Services of New Jersey. I am deeply grateful to the Gala Planning Committee which has put enormous work and effort into this. It is clear, mantles are being handed over, yet the Spirit remains powerfully at work. Praise God!

Blessings and peace,
Bishop Stokes's Signature__________________________________

[1] Johnson, Luke Timothy The Writings of the New Testament – An Introduction (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1986) 222-223.

[2] Neumann, Kimberly Dawn ” Liminal Space: What Is It And How Does It Affect Your Mental Health? – Forbes Health Online, September 6, 2022 found at Liminal Space: What Is It And How Does It Affect Your Mental Health? – Forbes Health