1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After 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. 4While staying 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; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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." 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They 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."
44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And 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."
50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The seventh Sunday of Easter is day 43 of the fifty days of Easter. The Easter season is a week of weeks, (the biblical number of) 7 times 7; next Sunday we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the third of our great Trinitarian festivals. Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter! And then the church's year of grace segues into the long, green and, growing season of Pentecost, "Season of the Church."
As we prepare to replicate and continue Jesus' earthly ministry, today we read from with Luke's pair of Ascension stories from his gospel and from his Second Volume / Act II Acts of the Apostles.
Three days ago on the 40th day of Easter, church and world (to some extent) celebrated Jesus' ascension with its declaration and confirmation of Jesus' authority over everything everywhere. Although we calendar the day of Resurrection according to the full moon and the spring equinox, making it a movable feast, Ascension Thursday remains fixed as the fortieth day of Easter.
Over the Sundays of Easter we've visited Jesus' post-resurrection actions, examples, and teaching. The past few weeks (and in the gospel reading from John appointed for today) we've heard from Jesus on Maundy Thursday, before his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.
Each gospel writer brings a particular perspective:
• With his persistent emphasis on justice and righteousness that never ever lets go, Jewish Matthew is very much in the tradition of Pentateuch and Prophets;
• Apocalyptic Mark dramatically brings us the end of the world as we've known it—a literal new world order;
* The community gathered around the beloved disciple reveals abiding and obeying as one and the same, shows a very different worldview than the synoptic gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who – despite measurable distinctives – essentially view and interpret Jesus' life and ministry with a single eye = syn + optic;
• We can scroll through Luke's gospel and notice Jesus' repentance (and forgiveness) commands and actions are far more than a simple "I'm sorry." Jesus demands restoration of what has been taken or broken and then walking the talk differently from before. Jesus demands we demonstrate our sorrow and repentance with action.
Rebalancing relationships and restoring the integrity of creation aligns with the Jubilee year we hear about in Leviticus. Jubilee is (the biblical number of) 7 times 7 years, with the 50th or Jubilee year one of forgiveness, restoration, new beginnings—in a sense resetting the clock. Cancellation of debts, return of land to its original owners, release of slaves and bond-servants, letting land lie fallow for a year of healing rest jubilee provisions go along with Mary's Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55] that proclaims God's social and economic reversals, with Jesus' first act of public ministry in the synagogue [Luke 4:15-21] as he announces comfort to those who mourn, release of the captives, sight to the blind, etc.
As we prepare again to focus on living as Jesus' presence in the world everywhere we go, it's appropriate this morning we're considering both Ascension passages from Luke: his account in the gospel that bears his name along with his account from the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus promises us baptism or literal immersion in the Holy Spirit of life; Jesus promises our lives will witness to him, but we don't do this under our own steam, but by trusting the power of God's life with us.