Saturday, May 15, 2021

Easter 7B • Ascension

Psalm 47

1Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
2For the Lord Most High is awesome;
God is a great King over all the earth.
3God will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
4God will choose our inheritance for us,
The excellence of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

5God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.
8God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.

9The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
God is greatly exalted.

New King James Version (NKJV). © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Acts 1:3-11

3After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to the apostles 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."


…through the church's year of grace so far. During Advent we anticipated God's arrival in our midst; then we celebrated Nativity /Christmas with Jesus' birth as God-among-us. Next, the day and the season of Epiphany demonstrated God for all people of every culture, ethnicity, and situation—not exclusively for God's original people Israel. Then with his disciples alongside, Jesus ministered publicly among people of all types. Toward the end of Jesus' earthly life he reached Jerusalem; the week we now call "Holy" included Maundy Thursday with foot washing and the Lord's Supper; Jesus' trial, conviction, crucifixion, and death on Friday; waiting again on Saturday (but with a sense of defeat, loss, and sorrow rather than Advent's hopefulness); finally the astonishment of Easter/resurrection Sunday.

Post-resurrection Jesus first encountered people he knew during his earthly ministry, and then drew a wider circle embracing people from everywhere. At the end of those forty days, all four gospels record Jesus' charging and commissioning his followers (that includes us!) to continue his ministries as his presence in the world. In the fourth gospel, the gospel according to John, Jesus makes a round-trip from heaven to earth, from earth back to heaven.

Ascension / Easter 7

Easter isn't a single day; Easter is a season that's a week of weeks, (the biblical number of) 7 times 7. Next Sunday on the fiftieth day of Easter we'll celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit enables the church to do the "greater works" Jesus promised. During the green and growing season of Pentecost, a l-o-o-o-n-n-g segment of Ordinary Time, the church really comes into its own.

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. The Feast or Solemnity of the Ascension is always a Thursday, but since most people don't go to church on Thursdays, today for Easter 7 we're hearing about the Ascension.

Although we sometimes refer to a balloon or a plane ascending, or we may mention a person has ascended to a better job or fancier house, "ascension" isn't a common word. In easy theological terms, Jesus' ascension refers to his reign, rule, sovereignty, power, authority, stewardship. Not "domination" as people sometimes misinterpret dominion in Genesis 2, but caretaking and responsiveness to creation's needs. When we read about Jesus seated at God's right hand, this is a way of saying Jesus ascended, or assumed authority over all creation. Unlike with human governments and organizations, Jesus' authority has no checks and balances. It is supreme. It is absolute. Jesus is "King of all the earth," as Psalm 47 says.

Today's Reading

In our passage from Luke's Acts of the Apostles, the disciples ask Jesus, "is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus' disciples somehow still imagined maybe a warrior king who'd zap their enemies, possibly a ruler like David or Solomon who'd reside in opulent splendor far away from the thick of things. After they ask Jesus if now he'll finally remake their world with the end of brutal Roman imperial rule, poverty, injustice, and death, 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."

The disciples still imagined a warrior who'd zap their enemies, or a ruler like David or Solomon. But instead the crucified and risen Savior told his followers they would receive power and be his witnesses—people who had seen and therefore could testify to his resurrection. In the power and reach of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we become Jesus' presence on earth and begin restoring God's reign over all creation. The Spirit of Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from death to new life.

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."

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