Acts 1:1-11On the 40th day of Easter we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension; that's a Thursday, but since most people don't go to church on Thursdays, today for Easter 7 we're hearing about the Ascension. Next Sunday, the 50th day of Easter, is the Day of Pentecost, the third of our great Trinitarian Festivals.
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying [or eating] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with [or by] the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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." 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward 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."
So far during the church's year of grace, we've studied and learned from Jesus' ministry. During the season of Easter we've experienced Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit on Easter evening from John's gospel; twice in the gospel we received from John's community we've revisited the upper room of Maundy Thursday with Jesus' commandment to love along with his promise of the Holy Spirit (advocate, paraclete) of comfort and truth. We've had examples of the early church's ministry in the power of the Spirit. Specifically, three weeks ago on Easter 4, we heard about the apostles' preaching and teaching (no longer Jesus'!), their gathering for prayer in the kind of community that's a true "common unity" of koinonia, for "breaking of bread," that likely meant regular meals (potlucks, anyone?) as well as the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation of the Lord's Supper.
The Heidelberg Catechism tells us we move from Christmas / Incarnation, "with the mystery of spirit in flesh" to the Ascension, "with the mystery of flesh in Spirit."
We don't often use the words ascension, ascendancy, ascent, but in easy theological terms they simply mean sovereignty, authority, stewardship. Not "lording it over" as people sometimes misinterpret dominion in Genesis 2, but caretaking and responsiveness to the needs of our human, animal, and all our neighbors – all of creation! Land, waterways, sky, etc.
During the upcoming long liturgical season of pentecost, the church really comes into its own. The gift of the indwelling Spirit enables the church to do the "greater works" Jesus promised.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks, "Why is the son of God called Jesus, meaning Savior?" And then, "Why is the son of God called Christ, meaning anointed?" And then: "But why are you called a Christian?" Answer: "Because by faith I share in Christ's anointing, and I am anointed to reign over all creation for all eternity."
In our scripture passage from Acts, Jesus' disciples ask him, "is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus essentially informs them their question is wrong and replies, "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."
In the power, discernment, and reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we becomes Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation. The HS empowers us to walk the talk!