1st Scripture Reading: Acts 1: 1-11, Psalm 47 (VU p.771)
There are only two places in our Bible where the ascension of the Christ is explicitly mentioned: In our reading from Acts this morning, and in the reading from the gospel of Mark.
The “lifting up” of the great ones was a rare occurrence in the Hebrew scriptures. We think of Enoch, who “walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.” (Gen. 5:24) And Elijah, the prophet, “who ascended in a whirlwind into heaven,”(2 Kings 2:11) as well, in the non-canonical writings, the ascensions of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezra.
Other spiritual traditions also record ascension type experiences; it was a well-known motif signaling the divine status of the one so lifted up to be with God. Ganymede, for example, became immortal when Zeus lifted him into heaven to serve as cupbearer to the gods.
In the Christian tradition, we know only of Jesus being lifted up after the resurrection to continue to serve God and humanity until God’s kingdom is fully come.
“As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” But before he left the disciples, these words: “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
And before that, a reminder: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things.”
A call to action, to witness what they have seen to all nations, to embody the teachings and experiences that Jesus has poured into them. To go forth now and proclaim the good news that there is a better way than violence and revenge and retaliation and more violence.
There is repentance and compassion and forgiveness, and the promise that he will be with us always till the end of time, no matter what. He taught us a better way, folks, and he has given us the power to proclaim and to live that better way.
Hymn # 14 Tab “He Lives”
2nd Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53
I want to reflect on these words of the apostle Paul: “the fullness of him who fills all in all”, speaking of the risen Christ to the early church at Ephesus.
How do we begin to understand this “indwelling” of Christ? We believe that after our baptism we are new beings “in Christ”. Somehow we are washed of our sins, and begin a new and better life, as part of a community of other Christians, and with a faith that Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, will guide and strengthen us for the struggles ahead.
I watched Masterpiece Theatre on Knowledge Network on Friday evening, and was intrigued by the inner conflict experienced by DI Hathaway as he, embodying the “good cop”, wrapped himself in the power of the Law to pressure a young, emotionally unstable student, who shortly after that encounter hanged himself.
Those of you who know this series are aware that Hathaway had been a theology student before he became a police officer. He found the young man, cut him down and took his condolences to the family, who thanked him, not having been privy to the earlier conversation Hathaway had had with their son.
Hathaway then walked to a church, knelt on the bench at the altar, and reflected on his life, this experience, and his future. He then went to his boss, DI Lewis, and told him he intended to resign from the force. His stated reason was that by making enforcement of the Law his priority, he had changed in significant ways. He had lost touch with his humanity. He had become less compassionate. He had lost sight of the essential humanity of every person – the good in them – and saw only the evil. He had strayed from what he knew was God’s way, the Way of Jesus, and knew he had to get back on track. In his life he knew that it wasn’t good enough to be a “good cop”. He needed to be a good person, and he needed to be aligned with something better than the laws of this world.
Paul talks about the church as the “body” of Christ, who is its head. This “head” fills this community, this body the church, with wisdom and revelation and opens its members hearts to the knowledge of how to live in this community as God’s people. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they are called to be the hope of the world, and that God will provide the power necessary to this community to live courageously in this new Commonwealth of God, where all people are equal, all share in the inheritance, and none are excluded.
This is good news for the whole world, people of God. This is the gospel and the promise, and we, called to be the church, must continually seek new ways to proclaim the Way of Jesus. God’s love and generosity are for all God’s creatures, and all of God’s creation. All was born in love, and all is precious in God’s sight.
Hymn # 958 VU “Halle, halle, halle”