"Joy in the Ascension"
Rev. Mike Bailey | May, 17 2015
Then 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.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘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 of these things. 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.’
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Friends I don’t want to slip into the sin of pride, but I’ve just come from experiencing 2/3’rds of Youth Sunday at the 11 a.m. service. I walked in here and have been worshipping with Matt’s incredible music. And in the sanctuary, I heard our youth choir of 40 and, get this, they were accompanied by our youth orchestra. How many churches have that? And more, I heard several of our young people giving testimony to their experience of Christ at Christ Church. We are so blessed to be in this great congregation of Christians!
And on a personal note, I want to thank all of you for your love and support of my family this week. Those of you who keep up with the prayer list know that Lauralees’s mother is in the CICU at Cone. You all have been praying, calling and sending messages of love and support. Again, this is such a remarkable congregation and to experience its love in a tough time is breathtaking.
Well, today is Ascension Sunday, perhaps one of most important days on the Christian calendar but sadly a day not dealt with too often in our worship lives. Ascension Sunday ends Easter tide and sets up the celebration of Pentecost next week. I find it a fascinating event for a number of reasons but one stands out in particular: the disciples experienced the Ascension of Jesus and had “great joy” our passage reports. At first blush that’s hard for me to understand.
Think about it: they had been through the halcyon days of Jesus ministry; the Palm Sunday joyous procession; the healings, the teachings, the feedings, the love and the grace that marked their days with Jesus. And then the wheels came off horribly!
The betrayal, Gethsemane, the trials, the crucifixion, the denials, the fear. And then they experienced the greatest joy-generating event in history: the resurrection! After three days he defeated death and rose from the dead. Over and over again he appeared to them; taught them, ate with them, called them family again and commissioned them. You would expect that they would have wanted this to go on forever! You would expect that they would never want to let him go again. And yet, he ascended into heaven and they were filled with great joy; what gives here? What can we glean for our faith journeys from their joy at the Ascension of Jesus?
For one thing, I think they experienced and we can experience joy because the Ascension means heaven understands us! Think of it! In the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the Divine came into humanity and in the Ascension, humanity went into the Divine; heaven.
This past week I spent about an hour in conversation with a wonderful physician who practices palliative care medicine. It seemed to me, more than any other professional I’ve ever encountered, her mission was to totally understand her patients. She would spend whatever time was needed to understand their goals, hopes, dreams, pain, fear and desires. That, in a sense, is what Christ’s incarnation was all about; to understand humanity totally; our goals, hopes, dreams, pain, fears and desires. Another way to think about it frequently comes about from conversations with persons who’ve been in the mission field or working among the marginalized. Often they will describe the challenges folks face by saying something like, “this is the way life is for these folks.” And when Christ ascended to heaven he took all of what it means to be human to the right hand of the Father, assuring us that in heaven, we are understood, loved and forgiven. The Triune God understands, “this is the way life is” for the creatures called human beings and that’s one reason the disciples then and today have joy in the Ascension.
More, the Ascension brought joy to disciples that day and today because it means Jesus, lover of our souls is in heaven to welcome us someday.
You’ve probably heard folks say: when/if you get to heaven, you’ll probably be surprised by who is there....and who isn’t!
Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like surprises! I long for a heavenly home and being reunited with those I love, like my mother. But, I don’t worry about that. There is for me a great Known in the Great Unknown; Jesus is there. Jesus, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow; Jesus who has loved me in my ups and downs, my good times and my bad, my heights and my depths, my hopes and my despair, my good actions and my sin – Jesus is there, the Ascension teaches and that brings joy to all who know him.
Then the disciples of old and of today have joy in the Ascension because everything in Jesus earthly mission is complete; no more needs to be added to what he did for the salvation of humanity. Jesus put it this way in our text, “everything is fulfilled”. The height of the fulfillment is that through his suffering and rising on the third day, there is Good News, Gospel; repentance and forgiveness of sin are the new reality.
Do you understand the import of this?
By his grace we can turn from all that is destructive, hurtful towards others and ourselves; attitudes, gossip, negativity, prejudice, un-holy habits and sin, toward Jesus; that is repentance. And here is even more good news, with contrite hearts and confession, grace and forgiveness means we start with a clean slate. All that is needed for humanity to experience these twin realities, repentance and forgiveness of sin (the heart of the gospel really) have been accomplished by Jesus in his earthy ministry. The Ascension is the divine seal on that fact. His mission on earth, which only he could do, was completed.
But here’s something, our mission, the Ascension means, is just beginning and there is no greater joy for us than to live in the direction God desires and created us to live into! Jesus told the disciples he’d be with them in a new way, “power from on high” he called it; the Holy Spirit. It would come at the first Pentecost, which we celebrate next Sunday. And it is a power for a specific purpose, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin to all nations, to everybody! And more it is a power to be witnesses to all of his life. There is no plan “b”; we’re it! And just as he blessed those disciples long ago so he blesses us in this holy calling.
The Ascension-witnessing disciples long ago had great joy and so can we, knowing from the Ascension:
Heaven understands what life is like for people.
Jesus awaits us in heaven.
Jesus life, death, resurrection and Ascension mean that repentance and forgiveness for sin are the new reality.
And we, the church have the great, joy-giving holy task of being his witnesses and bearers, personally and corporately of the Good News.
Let us bow our heads and pray for the power from on high to be upon us, even this day.