The Sunday after the Ascension
May 12, 2013
+ This past Thursday, we celebrated the feast of the Ascension. Now, for most of us, this just isn’t that big of a feastday for us. In fact, I don’t know a whole lot of Christians who, quite honestly, even give the Ascension a second thought. Some of us might look at the Ascension as a kind of anticlimactic event. The Resurrection has already occurred on Easter morning. That of course is the big event. The Ascension comes as it does after Jesus has appeared to his disciples and has proved to them that he wasn’t simply a ghost, but was actually resurrected in his body (remember a couple of weeks ago in our Gospel reading how Thomas put his fingers into Jesus’ wounds).
In comparison to Easter, the Ascension is a quiet event. The resurrected Jesus simply leads his followers out to Bethany and, then, quietly, he is taken up into heaven. And that’s it. There are no angels, no trumpet blasts. There is no thunder or lightning. He just goes. And that’s that.
So, why is the Ascension so important to us? Well, it’s important on two levels. One, on a practical level, we recognize the fact that, at the Ascension, this is where our work begins. This is when our work as followers of Jesus begins. We, at this point, become the Presence of Jesus now in the world. This is where we are now compelled to go out now and actually do the work Jesus has left for us to do.
Those apostles who are left gazing up at Jesus don’t just simple linger there, wringing their hands, wondering what has just happened. Well, actually, yes, that’s exactly what they do. For a while anyway. But eventually, with a BIG prompting from the Holy Spirit, they get going. They go out and start doing what they are meant to do. But we’re going to talk about that NEXT Sunday on Pentecost.
For now, we’re here, with them, watching Jesus being taken up, out of their midst. Again, this is the point in which we become the presence of Christ in this world. What I like about the feast is that it is more than just going out to do Jesus’ work.
Which brings us to our second point. Again and again, as we see in the life of Jesus, it isn’t just about Jesus. Our job is not simply to observe Jesus and bask quietly in his holiness. It’s about us too.
When we hear the fantastic stories of Jesus birth’ at Christmas, for example, we can look at them as simply fantastic. They are wonderful stories that happened then and there, to him. Or…we could see them for what they are for us. We could see them as our birth story as well. God worked in the life of Mary and Joseph and God’s special agent was born. But it should remind us that God worked in our birth as well. Well. Maybe not with angels and shepherds. But God worked in our lives even from the beginning, as God did in the life of Jesus. With Jesus, born as he was, with God’s special light and care upon him, we too were born. Jesus’ birth became our birth.
At Easter too, we could simply bask in the glorious mystery of Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. But the story doesn’t really mean anything to us until we see ourselves being resurrected with him. His resurrection is our resurrection as well. God, who raised Jesus, will raise us as well.
Well, the same thing happened last Thursday. Jesus’s ascension is our ascension as well. What God does for Jesus, God does for us too. That’s incredibly important to understand. We are not simply followers of Jesus. We are sharers with Jesus in all that happens to him. And that is incredibly wonderful! The event of the Incarnation is a reminder that God is incarnate in us as well.
So, regarding the Ascension, it is important for us to look at what happened and see it not only with Jesus’ eyes, but our eyes as well. Yes, we are rooted to this earth, to creation. We are children of this world. But we are also children of the next world as well. We are children of heaven too.
What the ascension reminds us is that we are inheritors of heaven as well. We, like Jesus, will one day ascend like him, beyond this world. In fact, our whole life here is a slow, steady ascension toward God. We are moving, incrementally, upward toward God. This is our journey. And as we do, as we recognize that we are moving upward, slowly ascending, like Jesus, to that place in which we ultimately belong, we should be feeling what Jesus no doubt felt as he ascended.
When we are happy—when we are joyful—we often use the word soar. Our hearts soar with happiness. When we are full of joy and happiness we imagine ourselves floating upward. In a sense, when we are happy or in love or any of those other wonderful things, we, in a sense, ascend.
Conversely, when we are depressed we plunge. We fall. We go down.
So this whole idea of ascension—of going “up”—is important. Jesus, in his joy, went up toward God. And we, in our joy, are, at this very moment, following that path. We have followed Jesus through his entire journey so far.
We have followed him from his birth, through his ministry, to his cross. We have followed him to his descent into hell and through his resurrection from the tomb. And now, we are following him on his ascension. And it is joyful and glorious.
And just when we think God has provided just what we need for this journey, we find one more truly amazing gift to us. Next week, an event will happen that will show us that Jesus remains with us in an even more extraordinary way. On that day—Pentecost Sunday—God’s Spirit will descend upon us and remain with us always. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
For now, we must simply face the fact that it all does fall into place. All that following of Jesus is now really starting to pay off. We know now—fully and completely—that God will never leave us alone. In what seems like defeat, there is amazing resurrection. In what seemed like being stuck to an earth that often feels sick and desolate, we are now soar.
So, today, and this week, as we remember and rejoice in the Ascension, as we prepare for the Holy Spirit’s descent, let our hearts ascend with Jesus. Let them soar upward in joy at the fact that God is still with us. Let us be filled with joy that God’s spirit dwells within us and can never be taken from us. And let this joy in us rise up. Let it rise up in us and sing through us to those around us we are called to serve. Amen.