Rising up—Ascension

Preacher: Nathan Hosler Scripture: Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23

And we stood there, staring into the sky. Trying to see what disappeared behind a tree and then the clouds. Our daycare is about a half block from our house—we call it purple school. Hours are still shortened so most days at about 4:28 one of heads out the door with a snack, construction vehicle toys, and his balance bike. Many days several other parents from school also bring the bikes and 2-4 kids bike the several blocks to a nearby playground. Both cute and chaotic As Jenn arrived to join us, we stood, staring with wonder into the sky: What are you looking at? It is no longer here we replied.”

The disciples stood, staring into the sky.

O glorious you, glorious wonder. The glorification of the Christ. From Jesus, a likely tradesperson turned wandering teacher. Challenger of pretension and power and presumptions of what matters. Speaker of great mystery but also great simplicity. If you want to be great you must be like this child. Do not worry about tomorrow…look at the flowers of the field, they are clad more beautifully than the great king Solomon but yet do not toil nor are they concerned with their garments. (my paraphrase). 

Though he consistently undermined and challenged expectations of what the Kingdom of God looked like and would be, his followers persistently misunderstood. Persistently.  Jockeying for key political appointments when the Romans would be overthrown. And that being overthrown, Jesus—the Messiah—would take their place. Earthly power for earthly power. 

 Raised up in humiliation and defeat on the cross like a despised criminal and then raised up in triumph over death. And here, again, in Acts we see the misunderstanding of what Jesus is about—Asking, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Certainly, triumph over Rome won’t be a problem after triumph over death. 

After a short and final time with his people, Jesus then continues in the raising—rising in the sky—ascending from view. In Luke and then Acts we have two accounts of this ascension. The two accounts—believed to be written by the same author—have some variation. In Luke, though the timeline is not quite stated it seems that this happens closer to the resurrection. Jesus appears, teaches, and then “withdrew from them and was carried into heaven.”

 In Acts, Jesus is present for 40 days after return and then ascends. Two angels appear and say, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The possibility of an imminent—and then less imminent but still anticipated—return begins to frame an expectation of how Jesus’ followers live in and understand themselves in the world. Both very earthy and in place but also somehow detached—holding this all lightly. Continuing the work of Jesus. In one passage, “In the world but not of the world.” 

Though the ascension specifically is not often referenced in the Bible the idea of glorification or present and ongoing heavenly rule is. The post-resurrection Christ in the heavenly realm at the “right hand” of God is regularly referenced throughout. We are the ongoing physical earthly presence (It must be noted that this is not assuming power and privilege but in the form of Jesus’ liberating love). Though the continuing presence of Jesus, the church—we—are not left alone in an impossible task. A writer notes, that they are instructed to wait, means, 

“Their mission requires more than earnest striving.” (Interpretation, 21). And for us this waiting, “implies that things which need doing in the world are beyond our ability to accomplish solely by our own effort, our programs, and crusades.” (Interpretation, 21). Not only will the waiting result in the filling of the Spirit but somehow the church is “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The ascension is a crucial pivot. From Jesus (and to a lesser extent the close disciples) to the expanding body. Both the directive to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” as well as in the actual expansion. A beautiful body that includes our congregation and us but is not limited to us. 

We will read again the Ephesians passage in a manner of Lectio Divina. 

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

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