The Triune God now knows what it is to live as a human, and we know what it is to be God’s love in the world, for the life and wholeness of all.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Ascension of Our Lord
Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53, also adding Hebrews 4:14-15, Hebrews 9:24
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What we celebrate today seems to be the last thing we want to celebrate.
Today, 40 days after Easter, Christ Jesus ascended from the earth, returning into the life of the Triune God, whatever that means in the life of God. But the immediate impact of this ascension was a sense of abandonment by those closest to Jesus. These women and men felt lost, gaped up at the sky thinking, “now what?”
Today we’re reeling from the slaughter of innocents in a Texas elementary school, the slaughter of innocents in a Buffalo grocery store, the slaughter of innocents at a church in Southern California, God’s beloved children of all ages and colors and backgrounds. We’re reeling from the constant barrage of such horrors in our nation, again and again and again and again. Celebrating the absence of a physical Christ Jesus in the world when we’re living with such repeated pain doesn’t feel comforting. We understand gaping up at the sky looking for God.
And we know that 90% of Americans want more controls on guns, and comprehensive background checks, that we’re being held hostage by politicians who repeatedly refuse to deal with this evil to preserve their power, who even proclaim the same messages of hate these shooters espouse in their killing. We also know that we hold responsibility for this world, this culture, and need to be continually engaged, to work for change.
But it would be good to know as well that God is with us. That God feels this pain. That somehow Jesus’ ascension isn’t a sign of God abandoning us to our brokenness and evil.
So let’s hear another perspective on Christ’s ascension.
The preacher whose sermon is called the letter to the Hebrews has this to say:
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are. (Hebrews 4:14-15)
24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (9:24)
Christ the High Priest is standing for us within God’s life, and that means this: because Christ Jesus is like us, was tested like us, knows our pain, our sorrow, our fear, can sympathize with our weaknesses, even while being at the same time the divine Son of God, Christ now has carried our truth into the Holy of Holies that is God’s life. In God’s Son, we have someone who knows us better than we know ourselves sharing that knowledge within God’s life.
That means the Triune God now understands us fully and truly.
In Christ Jesus, God-with-us, we know God better, have seen God’s face, know God’s love.
But now Christ is also Us-with-God, so the Triune God also knows us better, in ways God never could without taking on our flesh. Knows our fears and pains. Understands what it is for a mortal human being to see as we see tragedies and evil unfold, to experience as God’s children here do such grief and pain in a broken world, to know how it hurts to feel helpless to do anything. You and I and all God’s children are now known and understood by the Triune God as deeply as we can be.
God has not abandoned us at all. And now, knowing us all fully this way, God’s way of healing this world becomes much clearer, makes sense.
In Christ’s ascension, the Triune God now enters us to change this world.
As Christ returned to the life of God in a new way, Christ gave this promise, which is also a calling: you will be filled with power from on high, with the Spirit of God, so you can be witnesses to God’s love in the world.
As we face evil and horrors and unspeakable tragedy, as we look at a world threatened by hatred and violence against the most vulnerable, even as we sometimes despair that nothing can be done, the risen and ascended Christ says: I give you the Spirit’s power to be witnesses of God’s love. Witnesses in our words and actions, Spirit-filled, trying in whatever way we can to make this world more just and safe and whole for all God’s children.
The road of Ascension goes both ways, our lives witnessed and lived in the life of the Trinity, God’s life witnessed and lived in our lives. And in that beautiful reality, we can dare to hope for the healing of this world to finally begin.
In the name of Jesus. Amen