Tomorrow is the Feast of the Ascension. This is the week the Church has long celebrated the moment when Jesus was taken up into heaven. Why would we celebrate Jesus being taken far off into heaven away from us? And what does the ascension of Jesus mean for us and do to us?
Imagine being there on that day on the slope of that hill – as Luke records it – “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” I think that is a pretty good reason to be standing there staring into the sky. But if we can inject part of our lesson from Acts this morning into the report, suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee” they said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?’
The reason that they were looking, and the word Luke uses is
– the reason is they have just witnessed one of the most amazing events in world history. Jesus the Son of God who was born of Mary in Bethlehem has just bodily lifted up from the earth and disappeared into the sky.
There is a New Testament scholar who once compared the Cross and the Resurrection to D-Day in Europe. Impossible was accomplished. A beachhead had been established and the enemy was sent into retreat. While there were still battles ahead, the war would be won. As the animals in Narnia whisper, “Aslan is on the move.” The end is not in doubt.
The Ascension is important to you and me because it gives us purpose and power. Jesus, ascends to his throne, is crowned king, and then command us as only a king could: to go into a hostile world, a world that crucified him and make them disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Impossible! But Jesus, the ascended and coronated king that he is, doesn’t leave us to accomplish this mission on our own. No. “Lo,” He says with his parting words, “I am with you always. Even to the end of the age.”
Tomorrow you will hear about some of the many ways that we at CSMSG, are seeking to be faithful in this commission from Christ, advancing onward from the beachhead up the beach, as it were: hunger ministries, prison ministries, prayer and pastoral care ministries, simply rearing our children as Christians, being fair in our businesses, fashioning a blanket for a sick friend, facing cancer with grace, or loving our neighbor by sheltering-in-place. Whatever Christ has called you to, you do trusting that it is not in vain and that we are empowered to accomplish it. The Rev. Flemming Rutledge puts it this way, “In God, our toil is meaningful, purposeful, and lasting, because he gives us
power from on high
Pastor and Author Max Lucado tells the story of Robert Reed: his hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t feed himself. He can’t brush his teeth, comb his hair. Strips of Velcro hold his shirts together. His speech drags like a worn out audiocassette.
Robert has cerebral palsy.
The disease keeps him from driving a car, riding a bike, and going for a walk. But it didn’t keep him from graduating from high school or attending Abilene Christian University, from which he graduate with a degree in Latin. Having cerebral palsy didn’t keep him from teaching at St. Louis Junior College or from venturing overseas on five mission trips.
And Robert’s disease didn’t prevent him from becoming a full time missionary in Portugal.
He moved to Lisbon, alone, in 1972. There he rented a hotel room and began studying Portuguese. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him after the rush hour and a tutor who would instruct him in the language.
Then he stationed himself daily in a park, where he told people about Christ. Within six years he led seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife, Rosa.
In 2015, Robert gave an address. Other men had to carry him in his wheelchair onto the platform. They had to lay a Bible in his lap. his stiff fingers forced open the pages as people in the audience wiped away tears of admiration from their faces. Robert could have asked for sympathy or pity, but he did just the opposite. He held his bent hand up in the air and boasted,
“I have everything I need for joy!”
Before the Ascension, the disciples were behind locked doors and afraid. After it, you could not wipe the smiles off their faces and they were meeting openly in the temple and their joy has changed the world.
The Christian who gets the
scension is filled with joy and a joy that lasts because the
scension places the risen Jesus on the throne where he rules and makes his intercession for us with authority and from which he will return for us. This is the heart of the Christian message: repentance and forgiveness from one raised, ascended, and seated on the throne. Bishop Wright calls this the resolute application of the Gospel. Under the Lordship of the risen and ascended Jesus, it is the only way from the beachhead upwards towards new hope and fresh possibilities.
Tomorrow we pray the Collect for Ascension Day:
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.
Fr. Peter +