Happy Ascension Day!

May 25, 2017

If you read “Happy Ascension Day” and thought, huh?? You are not alone. Ascension Day is probably the least understood, least celebrated of the Christian feast days. You may know that the feast commemorates Jesus ascension into heaven. But you may also wonder what that means and why it is important.

The Ascension - Luke 24:50-51

You can read the Biblical accounts of the ascension in Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:6-11.

So when they [ the apostles] had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’

Acts 1:6-11 NRSV

So what do you think happened? Did Jesus leave? Well, yes and no.
Part of our difficulty with this passage has to do with the fact that we Americans do not have a monarchy along with a misunderstanding about the nature and reality of heaven.
What’s a monarchy got to do with this? Actually quite a bit. Monarchs ascend to their throne.  Merriam-Webster defines ascension like this: the act of rising or ascending; especially : the act of moving to a higher or more powerful position.
In the ascension Jesus isn’t going away, he is taking possession of his Kingdom. When we speak of Christ the King or Jesus as Lord, we are claiming that Christ rules the world. Ascension is about enthronement not Jesus dramatically leaving us alone.
So where is Jesus going? The Apostle’s Creed tells us;
he [Jesus] ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Which brings us to heaven. If we are not careful, we can unthinkingly fall into the mistaken but quite common idea that heaven is some sort of future, disembodied place. Heaven is somewhere ( and here we might wave our arms around a bit) out there, away and “spiritual”.  Someplace that only concerns us after death. Someplace we only think about at funerals. Someplace where our great grandmother “is”.
But this is not how people in Jesus time thought about heaven. Heaven is the place where God (or the gods) lived. Earth is the place where we humans live. And what happens on earth is reflected in heaven and visa versa. Remember what we say in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father who art [is] in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”  
Heaven is a real place which exists right now. It is where Jesus is. King Jesus rules from heaven, now. When he ascended into heaven, he ascended to the throne to rule heaven and earth.  When we say Jesus is Lord. This is what we are talking about. Certainly Jesus is Lord of our hearts, but also Jesus is Lord over all that is, all that has been, all that will be.
To recognize what the ascension is and what it means then involves some serious reflection about what we mean when we claim Jesus is Lord. Certainly when we look at the world around us, we might well wonder what sort of job Jesus is doing as King. And when we think about ascension and what it means, we also need to think seriously about what it means when we say Christ will come again. But these are topics for another day.
Today is Ascension Day. For Christians that means Christ is King, Christ is ruler. There are no other kings and rulers for us. Christ reigns over and above all earthly rulers. The Ascension of the Lord has social and political implications as well as theological ones. We now live as faithful followers, faithful subjects of Jesus. Modelling our lives after our King’s way of living- seeking justice, loving all, working for reconciliation.
Great and mighty God,
we praise you that Christ has ascended
to rule at your right hand.
We rejoice before the throne of his power and peace,
for he has put down tyrannies that would destroy us,
and unmasked idols claiming our allegiance.
We thank you that he alone is Lord of our lives.
By your Spirit,
give us freedom to love with his love,
and to embrace the world with his compassion.
Accept the offering of our lives,
that we may obey your commands to serve
in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
From: Book of Common Worship , Westminster/JohnKnox Press, 1993, page 335 Ascension of the Lord, Prayers of Thanksgiving
Read about the first image Ascension from Jesusmafa here and here.
The second image is Christ Ascended into Heaven – Dome of Monastery in Mirozh Russia, Public Domain

Bread and Signs

May 24, 2017

Recently I read John 6, which is a really long chapter- 71 verses. There are many, many things to think about. The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand. Then the disciples cross the rough sea and Jesus walks out on the water to them and they reach the other side.

Then something interesting happened. The crowds (the people Jesus fed the day before) were confused. They saw the disciples leave in a boat, but not Jesus. The crowd, realizing that both Jesus and the disciples are gone, travel to the “other side” to look for Jesus. They find Jesus and ask,

“Rabbi, when did you come here?” (v25) Jesus replies “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them,”This is the work of God, that you believe in him, whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness: as it is written,’He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

John 6:25-31  NRSV

The chapter goes on for 40 more verses. But I found this part interesting and perhaps a little too personal.  The crowds are looking for Jesus because he fed them the day before. We can’t fault people for being hungry and eating the food offered to them. The problem was that they, and I, sometimes think food is just food. We eat food every day, usually several times a day. We forget to see the sign that the food is.

I’m looking for “heavenly”, head turning, traffic stopping miracles. That’s not what I get. Jesus gives me signs and wonders. For example the wonder of food.

We see the bread, we see the wine (John 2:1-11). We are glad to eat and drink. We may even be thankful. But we miss the sign.

John’s gospel gives us signs, rather than miracles. I think that is to help us keep a clearer picture of what is going on. The sign points us to who Jesus is. The sign tells us important things about Jesus, about what matters to him.

The abundance of wine, the abundance of food. These are not things we should take for granted. But I know I do and when I do I fail to see the sign.

Too often I follow Jesus for what he can do, rather than for who he is. From the trivial- praying for a parking spot, to the serious- prayers for peace or healing. It is so easy to be like the crowd and follow Jesus for what he does. It is easy to be distracted by what he does and forget who he is- the bread of heaven.

The crowd goes on to make a second mistake. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Forgetting it is all gift.

Then they, and we, demand divine party tricks, something spectacular to prove that God is God. Forgetting that it is all gift. The gift of life in the kingdom. Life now in Christ. Gift, right before our eyes.

The crowd asked, “What sign are you going to give us…?”  We might ask “What have you done for me lately, Jesus?” We follow as those ancient crowds did- hungry, looking for someone to feed us. Someone to heal us. And Jesus, patiently and with steadfast love feeds us and heals us. Hoping, I suppose, that we can someday follow for better reasons. Simply because Jesus is worth following because of who he is, not what he does.



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