Going up? Reflections - 5-26-2022

Texts for the Day of the Ascension
May 26, 2022

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

There are 7 Sundays in the Easter season. We have just passed Week 6. Each Sunday during this season I shout at the beginning of worship (in my cheerleader voice; yes, cheerleader) Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Actually, every service all year could start that way, but I’m not going there. As the weeks tick by, I can see the questions arising in the people’s eyes “How long, O Lord, is she planning to shout at us?” Well, only one more Sunday. Then the Spirit will rush in on Pentecost and we will start the long season of the Church, the “Sundays after Pentecost” (along about fall, you may be wishing there was a cheerleader shouting at the beginning of the service).

Truthfully, it takes more than 50 days…. maybe a lifetime…to take in what happened on Easter and the three days before it. It is still a bit shocking that “Christ is Risen”! And all these days -years - centuries, it is still worth shouting about.

Today, Thursday May 26, marks the 40th day in the Easter season called Ascension Day. We acknowledge this event almost every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed, in the “Jesus” paragraph: He ascended into heaven. 

Strange we say it so often but celebrate it so rarely! I used to get up to attend an Ascension Morning worship with other pastors and deacons at 7am. That’s a bit early now that I’m old!

Since the creed uses the word “ascend” and the both the Acts and Luke accounts use the word “up”, the scene in our mind’s eye has Jesus going up…like on a cloud elevator... or maybe “Beam me up Scotty”.

In fact, great pieces of art through time have pictured this scene of Christ ascending and/or of the confused disciples and the two men in white. It is worth a Google search, images of Jesus’ Ascension (or on your favorite search engine). My all-time favorite is by Salvador Dali - a 1958 painting of the bottom of Jesus feet. The second is a painting by James Tissot of the two men in white looking quite dapper as they stand among the disciples.

These days we enlightened ones know that “up” means stars and comets and galaxies and black holes. Nothing about thrones. So, like so much of the Bible, we need to look at this scene (described by the same author in both Luke and Acts) and ask “What does this mean?”

Here are my some of my reflections:

1) At his birth, during his life, and at his death, Jesus brought God into the experience and reality of humanness. So it stands to reason that his returning to God takes humanness into the experience and reality of God. Nothing is the same for humanity and nothing is the same for Divinity.

2) There is that whole time-space continuum that I enjoy holding lightly and don’t try to actually understand. Jesus was present in a specific time and place during his lifetime; the ascension now moves him to a time and place that is all time and every place…. for comfort and for prayer: “Where two or three gather” …. for forgiveness and life: “Given and shed for you” … and for compassion and mercy: “the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face”                All are Welcome - Marty Haugen

3) The ascension is a visual aid showing that Jesus is not walking about doing his ministry any more. Instead, God calls us as partners to do the work. In fact, after ten more days God with pour down the Holy Spirit in a spectacular manner on the disciples in Jerusalem. 
But we also have received the Holy Spirit at our baptism to, as Luther would say, to enlighten, sanctify (make holy), and keep us doing God’s work. Furthermore, Luther says that this Spirit is not just for individuals but that the same Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies and keeps the whole church doing that work. St. Paul calls this called, gathered, enlightened, holy group “the body of Christ”. As the body of Christ, we do the work of Christ. Re-read Luke 4:18-19. These verses are the measure of Christ’s mission. As the body of Christ, those same verses define our mission.

I end with this poem that reflects on what the ascension brings with it.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,
a new world has broken into ours –
a world in which justice does come for the poor,
freedom comes for the prisoners,
and healing for the sick.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,
a new community has been formed –
a community that loves and cares for all members,
a family that welcomes all who are abandoned and rejected,
a place where all find a place of belonging.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,
a new creation has begun –
all that was distorted is being restored,
all that is corrupted is being renewed,
all that was broken is being made whole.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,
God’s new world has begun.

From a post by Christine Sine on the blog Godspace.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245