“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While 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; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:1-5)
I decided, beloved reader, to step outside the numbering of Sundays since Sunday to address the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. Some years might have been a different numbered Sunday, and I wanted to hold fast to the day rather than the Sunday. It was not an option for me to ignore the day all together . . . no, not an option at all. Neither could I bring myself to only pick one or two passages to use. How could I possibly chose?
The lectionary gets right the the heart of the event by using this passage from Acts. This is what happened, according to the writer of Acts.
“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But 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.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They 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.” (Verses 6 – 11)
Hmm . . . in light of our readings from Revelation, this is very interesting. Jesus will come in the same way as the disciples saw him go. I am not teasing or being irreverent (although I have been known to be both on other occasions). There are many accounts, beliefs, and interpretations of how and when Jesus will come. Our focus here is that Jesus was taken up to heaven in a mysterious way – quite counter to his being born as a human child. This is one reason why, I think, many churches set aside this day to ponder this.
“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 worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:44-53)
This portion of Luke is interesting; note the details and the sequence of events in this ascension closely, because it is thought that the same person who wrote Acts also wrote the gospel of Luke. The two are very similar, but not exactly identical. Very interesting indeed. In Acts and in Luke Jesus tells them to stay in the city until they have received additional blessing; but in Luke Jesus opens their minds to the scripture but not in Acts. In Luke he lead them out of the city, but in Acts the location of the ascension is not pinpointed. And in Luke there is no mention of the two men in white robes. What is also interesting is that current thought says the Luke came to faith AFTER Jesus ascended to heaven, so the was not something that Luke personally witnessed but was told to him. That might be the difference. We who have come to faith after Jesus walked the earth hear from other witnesses what happened, so we must judge what is the most accurate and apt account. But, BUT, our faith is our own. However, these are not the only two scripture passages that the lectionary uses.
Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth. (Psalm 47:1- 2)
If this were an ordinary posting, I would probably have Preacher and one of the Seekers recite this passage for you. Perhaps using Seeker 2 to ask some poignant questions or make some observations. Instead I present it as a simple celebration of the Jesus who ascend to God and from Heaven pleads and intervenes for us and continues to send the Spirit to guide and instruct us. That Jesus Christ has never forgotten the world and counts each believer as an authentic and original disciple is something worthy of celebration! Remember though, that the psalms were written before Christ worked the earth, and are based on a different understanding of God.
“He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted. (Verses 3 – 9)
This is the God (according to the book of Psalms) that Jesus returned to; actually, this is also the God that sent Jesus. And it is this God, according to some theologies, that Jesus begs mercy from for God’s children. Yea, yes, this might be a God we need an intermediary for.
The apostle Paul had a fine and nuanced understanding of how God and Jesus relate and interrelate. Paul is another example of a disciple of Jesus and a follower of God who came late to faith. Perhaps that is why Paul is so highly thought of; that he did not know Jesus as a fellow inhabitant of earth as the original 12 did. But he became such a devoted follower and so thoroughly followed Jesus’ example that we (using some license and latitude here) follow Paul. As I read this portion of Ephesians I can image Jesus expressing the same sentiments. And, if I may, I would like to say it expresses my sentiments too! Shalom!
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 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, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 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, 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. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:15-23)