Christ Jesus goes away on this day so that we can be filled with the Spirit and continue the ministry of self-giving, wounded love that is the only way the world will be healed.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Ascension of Our Lord
Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Having Jesus around was great for the disciples.
Whenever there was a crisis, Jesus handled it. If decisions needed to be made, Jesus made them. If someone needed help, they brought them to Jesus.
It was good. These folks spent their time being taught by God’s Messiah, embraced by God’s grace and love. They didn’t have to worry about much if they stayed close to Jesus.
The crucifixion was a horrible blow to this peace of mind. But then Jesus was alive, raised from the dead. They had him back. Jesus in charge again, and it’s good.
That is to say, it makes sense that after Christ ascended into heaven, the disciples, women and men alike, stood on the Mount of Olives gaping at the sky. “He’s leaving? What are we supposed to do now? What will happen when things get challenging?”
And that’s precisely the point.
In times of crisis, we often look to the skies for God.
We get angry with God for not intervening in human suffering, and we’ve seen a lot of it this year. We want to neatly hand all our problems and the world’s problems to God and say, “here you go.”
Except the point of God taking on human life and living among us was to show us in person God’s way, the way of love of neighbor, so that we would do it. To teach us in person how we could love as God loves, so that we would do it. The Son had to return into the full life of the Trinity so we could be left in charge.
This doesn’t mean we can’t ever look up at the sky and yell at God.
We don’t need to defend God or God’s choices to anyone, even to ourselves, and God’s big enough to handle any criticism. Sometimes God seems to intervene, and miracles happen, and sometimes God doesn’t. It’s legitimate to shout our frustration to God when we have it. If Jesus, the Son of God, could do it, as he did on the cross, it’s fair game for us.
Even so, there’s always that angel from God standing next to us who, at some point, will say, “Why are you just looking up to heaven? Go back to the city and wait, and God will give you what you need to change this. To begin the healing of the world.”
This has always been the plan. Good Friday and Easter revealed it, but Ascension gave it to us.
In Jesus, the Triune God said, “I will show you in my very life and death that this is how all of you will also end human suffering and pain, and I will transform your hearts as you join in my resurrection life. So when you are doing this yourselves, you can take on human suffering and pain. Stand with those who suffer. Love those who hate. Get in the way of evil to keep it from someone else. Be my loving presence to those who are in pain. In this way I will heal the whole creation through you.”
The world needs God’s healing love, and will receive it when we carry God’s vulnerability, God’s willingness to be wounded, into the world to bring life to our siblings in pain. When we share God’s strange way of using power by setting it aside.
Christ trusts us a lot in leaving us in charge. We’re going to mess up some of these crises. We’re going to find wrong answers to problems sometimes. We’re not always going to know what to do to help someone who comes to us, or change massive systems of evil. But Christ trusts us with this ministry.
And gives us one more grace.
Those women and men were sent back to the city and told to wait, because the Holy Spirit was going to fill them with the power from God they needed to do this work their beloved Jesus had begun.
We have ten days until our celebration of Pentecost. We’ve already experienced the coming of the Spirit, all our lives, so it isn’t exactly the same for us. But these ten days are a good reminder that sometimes you have to wait before you receive all you need from God. And they’re a reminder that you’re not in this ministry alone, ever.
The Triune God’s answer when you look to the skies is to send you the Spirit so you can have the strength and grace you need to carry on as God’s love in the world. It’s always been the plan, and God has you covered. Just look around you and see.
In the name of Jesus. Amen