Ascension: O’ MAN! (said with a bit of a whine)
We have journeyed through Lent with all of the “giving up” of stuff, the extra prayers and supplications; we suffered through the “foot-washing” of Maundy Thursday; we cried with the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior and jumped with the slamming of the tomb; we walked through the catacombs of the Easter Vigil to come out of the tombs celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!!
We have confessed our sins; we have suffered the grief of the torture and death of Jesus; we have felt the loneliness of abandonment of God; we learned that the love of God doesn’t mean sunshine and roses all the time; author, Brene Brown puts it this way: “Church wasn’t an epidural, it was a midwife. It just stood next to me and said ‘Push, it’s supposed to hurt a bit.” (Love this quote) Jesus doesn’t promise to keep all the uncomfortable things away from us - He promises to BE with us all the time.
We celebrated Easter - saying Alleluia over and over; we sang wonderful songs; enjoyed the beautiful flowers; we were there for the Resurrection! Jesus is alive and among us again! All is perfect again.
Now, when we think all is wonderful and peaceful again, we find Jesus ascending into the clouds. Leaving us again??!! O’ Man! (don’t forget the whine). Just who is this Christ and what are we supposed to be doing with ourselves?? You know what I mean - that disconnect we feel between Sunday (Resurrection) and Monday (the Real world).
If our images of Jesus ascending contribute to a sense of Jesus’ removal from human society and our daily experiences, then we’ve missed the point of the ascension. The ascension does not mean the cessation of his ministry. It does not mean Jesus’ absence. It does not mean the suspension of God’s activity to reclaim the world. Quite the opposite.
The ascension of Jesus into heaven alters our picture of God. We can no longer define God in a way that leaves God completely detached from human experience. The ascended Jesus, who sits at God’s right hand, reveals a God who is vulnerable and even approachable. When we turn to God in times of distress or temptation we are not addressing a deity aloof and unfamiliar with our struggles. God knows our trials intimately well and not only comforts us by identifying with our pain but also assures us that affliction will not have the final word because it is the risen and ascended Christ who intercedes for us and nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:34).
The texts we read for Ascension have a strong emphasis on forgiveness. Let us not be blind to the fact that the very appearance of the resurrected Christ to his disciples is first and foremost a message of forgiveness. The ones who fled and denied Jesus are not reminded of their cowardice and faintness of heart. Rather his first words to his confused and bewildered followers are, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). Moreover, this is not a word meant only for his closest companions during his earthly ministry. This radical word of mercy is the very backbone for the entire mission of the disciples for he tells them “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). All nations!
And the ascension of Christ himself underlines this mission of mercy. We often miss this part of the mission because we are focused on the actual way that Jesus took leave of his followers. We are told that Jesus and his disciples go to Bethany where “…lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). Jesus’ departure to heaven is accompanied by a blessing of lifted hands. These are the very hands that still bore the wounds of one who was murdered on a Roman cross. He has commissioned the first witnesses of his ascension and then he provides them with a remarkable message of forgiveness. Let us remember that these witnesses themselves were complicit in his execution. But the last image of their betrayed leader is a dramatic sign of mercy.
We are commissioned; we are equipped; we are blessed and we are to speak with our mouths and our actions the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Thank you so much for being the faithful saints in our neighborhoods. As your pastors, we want you to know that you are always in our prayers and we are blessed to be a part of your ministries.
So maybe now we can take the whine out of the O’ Man! And replace that with an AMEN!
Remember - we celebrate Ascension as one of our joint services in P.L.U.M. Watch for time and location to come.
- Pastor Melba Dibble
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773