June 1, 2014 (Easter 7/Ascension)
1:1 “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, 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. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” (Acts 1:1-14, NRSV)
Let us pray: O God of glory, your Son Jesus Christ suffered for us and ascended to your right hand. Unite us with Christ and each other, in suffering and in joy, that all your children may be drawn into your heavenly home. Amen.
It is hard to believe but it has been over 40 days since Easter. I realize this because Thursday was Ascension Day, not exactly a big day on the calendar, no hallmark cards to mark the event, just us religious types to take notice. A day to sing some special hymns like Crown Him Lord of All or Crown Him with Many Crowns. It is such a difficult concept to preach on much less to believe in. That Jesus ascended up into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the father. We say it in the Apostle’s Creed every week. Mystery and all, this is where that statement in the creed comes from.
One thing is certain about Jesus ascension is that we will never work out the physiology of Jesus ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty…nor will we figure out the physics of it either. The theology on the other hand is pretty clear about what theAscension is all about. You and I have heard the story of Jesus starting way back at Christmas, going through Lent and Easter and now 40 days beyond. This is one of those stories that people on the outside love to point out as pure fantasy, you don’t really believe that right? They ask. “I mean come on, a man, Jesus, goes straight up into heaven and his followers watched.” They have a point you know. I can never prove it but then again I can’t prove much anyway.
So how and why Jesus Ascended into heaven is not really that important to me because this story has something much more valuable to tell us. It is the Promise.
You know what a promise is, a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future. We all make promises – good promises, well-intentioned promises. Life happens and our promises often go by the wayside. And so when we read in this story of Jesus Ascending into heaven we may be all caught up in the special effects of that scene that we miss out on the promise in verse 8 “But 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.”
Dare we promise makers and promise breakers trust such a promise that has had over 20 centuries of life happens to get in its way of being fulfilled?
We seem to focus on Jesus going up through the clouds. Then we notice the disciples that small fragile community of followers. They were anxious and bewildered, watching their Lord leave them. Much like any of us when we say goodbye to a loved one. So, there they stand, looking up staring into heaven and waiting. They have let the promise that Jesus told them sink in. The promise that God will send the Spirit to be with them and to give them power to go on. It is not until later, when the two visitors come and speak and offer another promise from God that the forlorn disciples even move. They don’t go far because they are very cautious as they wait.
But their waiting is not passive. They gather with women who had followed Jesus. They pray. They look for a replacement for Judas. And they wait for promises to be fulfilled. For soon Pentecost will happen and it will fulfill the promise of the Holy Spirit.
What they learn as they wait and what we learn is that God’s promises can be trusted. God’s promises are often fulfilled in unexpected ways. We may not be able to deliver on all of our promises but God can and God does. What God’s promises God can deliver.
All of us make promises – good promises, promises that are full of good intentions. A parent tells a child still shaken from a nightmare that she won’t ever let anything harm the child, not imagining all the traumas or tragedies that child may have to face in life. A young couple stands before a congregation of family and friends and say to one another that together they will persevere through sickness and health, in plenty and in want…not able to perceive the stresses that a serious illness or a lost job, will impose on their promises. Changing circumstances and demands, like our own frailties and faults, sometimes force enormous pressure and strain on even the best promises we make.
The fact that God keeps promises does not make our own promises more reliable. Neither does God’s trustworthiness make our failed and broken promises any less painful to us or to others. No, what God’s promise keeping does is mean that our broken promises are not what will define us. God promises that something good may come from us yet.
God’s promises mean that even failure isn’t the last word. God’s promises mean that even death is not the last word. God promises that weeping may linger for a night but joy comes in the morning. God promises that no matter what befalls us we are never alone, that Christ gives us strength we did not know we had, hope that seemed impossible, and joy that seemed lost. God is a God of promises giving us the power to live the faith and face each day with confidence and courage knowing that we go not alone.
Let us pray: