Tuesday, May 30

Sermon: Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord (observed)

Sermon: Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord

Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler

May 28, 2006

 

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

 

Monday is Memorial Day and, per our usual for the past few years, Trish and I have been house-sitting this weekend for some friends of ours.  They have a dog and go out of town over the holiday weekend.  The dog, Texas, needs walking and company.  So, Trish and I hang out at our friends place, walk the dog, eat their food, enjoy the comfort of their home and most importantly, watch cable television.  We watch lots of television.  Trish and I never bothered to get cable.  Thus it is a treat for me.  Spending time surfing through 70 channels always gives me pleasure.

 

One of the things that always surprises me, however, when we stay over Memorial Day weekend is the number of films on cable TV about war.  I skipped over everything from The Red Badge of Courage to Bridge over the River Kwai.  Some channels commit their weekend programming to films about the wars our country has experienced.  Some are critical.  Some are romantic.  Some are patriotic.  Some are a combination of all three and more.  In any case, the networks strive to remember our war dead.  This is a weekend for memory. 

 

One film in particular caught my attention Ike: Countdown to D-Day.    It was about General Eisenhower and the days leading up to the invasion of NormandyD-Day.  It stars Tom Selleck and depicts the personal struggles that Ike experienced in those days.  It is based off of letters he wrote and other wartime journals.  It is not a very good film and I am no fan of war, but I could not help myself but to be moved.

 

I know some of you have seen  this before.  This is my great-uncles pith helmet.  He trained men for the Pacific theater in WWII.  He was the oldest of three brothers.  My grandfather was the middle son.  He, too, fought in WWII with the Third Infantry Division.  The youngest of the three actually participated in the invasion at Normandy. 

 

The constant barrage of films on the television reminds me of these three men.  The three have since passed on.  But I remember them.  Every year we are told that such memory is a virtue.  Each year we extol the great deeds and the larger-than-life personalities of Generals and heroes.  Each year we make a ritual of memory.  We acknowledge the contributions of those who have gone before us.  Well, this is at least the purpose of the holidayeven if many of us take trips to the beach.  In any case, we honor a memory.  We memorialize. 

 

Many suggest that there is no greater honor than to remember someone.  Immortality, it is said, can be achieved through the memory of others.  This was the desire of many in the ancient world.  If your deeds are great, you will be remembered.  Thus, you will not die.  Mortality (Immortality?) and memory are linked for many of us.

 

So today we are presented with Lukes Gospel.  In both the Gospel proper and in Acts, Luke shares with us his recollections of Christ.  He speaks of proofs and interpretation.  He speaks of prophetic words brought to fruition.  He shares one memory in particular.  He reminds us of the Ascension of Christ.

 

Acts 1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

 

Luke 24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.

 

This is our observation of the Feast Day of the Ascension of Our Lord.  This is the day in the church year where we remember the fulfillment of scripture, the call to mission and Christs ascension into heaven to be with God.  This is no small feast.  This is no small celebration.  But it is often a forgotten one.  Most of the churches I have been affiliated with simply gloss over it.  There are reasons for this.  Technically, the feast is

 

the fortieth day after Easter SundayIn the Eastern Church this feast was known as analepsis, the taking up, and also as the episozomene, the salvation, denoting that by ascending into His glory Christ completed the work of our redemption. The terms used in the West, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by His own powers. Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth.

The feast falls on Thursday. It is one of the Ecumenical feasts ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the calendarSt. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of [Church Fathers]

Certain customs were connected with the liturgy of this feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes after the Commemoration of the Dead in the Canon of the Mass, the blessing of first fruits, [and others]In the liturgies generally the day is meant to celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and His entry into heaven with our human nature glorified[i].

 

Since it is on a Thursday, many believers cannot honor the feast.  We are at work.  Its really very simple.  And though it is a step away from honoring the specific Western church calendar, we here at Reconciler thought we would move it to Sunday.  The completion of our salvation, as the good people at New Advent state, is something worth remembering.

 

I know that I may be beating a drum a bit here, but this is one more Feast Day that I wish us Baptists paid attention to.  I know that not everyone here is a Baptist, but I hope the rest of you will be patient with me. 

It is not that we dont talk about the Ascension of Christ.  It is not that we dont know it is there, but somehow the salvific nature of Christs ascending to be with God has been lost for me.  Maybe I am the only one and I need to go back to Bible school.  Perhaps.  But I am somehow always caught by surprise by these verses.  When I think of Jesus and the post-resurrection stories, I forget that Jesus ascends to heavennot that he has ascended, but that he ascends.  I know he is there.  I just forget that he had to get there.  It is only an event from the past for meand not a memorable one at that.

 

I have read Calvin and all of the Reformation arguments about how Jesus cannot be in the bread and wine of communion because he is too busy sitting at the right hand of God.  After all, how can Jesus be in two places at once?  The theological arguments aside, I always forget how Jesus gets to Gods side in the first place.  I only know that he is there.

 

Now I wonder if that memory lapse is important.

Now I wonder if I have forgotten something that I should not have.

What difference does it make that he ascends?

 

Maybe none.  Maybe he could have taken a cab and it would have been just as effective.  However he gets to Gods side is fine as long as he gets to Gods side.  Right?

 

But no.  Luke reminds usproofs.  It is about fulfillment of prophesy and scripture.  It is all of a piece.  This brief passage from Luke is of a single piece.  By ascending, once again Jesus fulfills prophesy.

 

Lukes Gospel begins and ends with the Temple.  Prophesy, prayer and praise go hand in hand in hand.  We begin the Gospel with Zachariah in the Temple proclaiming the birth of a Messiah.  We end with the followers of Christ continually in the Temple blessing God.[ii]  Between these two events there is interpretation and healing.  The needs of the poorest are met.  People are fed.  Scripture is fulfilled.  Jesus reminds his disciples of this just before he ascends (there is that memory thing again).  Lets look at Luke again.

 

Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day[iii]

 

These things are from memory.  These events are from of old.  This is not new.  This is not news.  This is the very thing that has been proclaimed.  It has always been thus

 

But Jesus does not stop there. 

 

and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.[iv]

 

These things are a whole.  The fulfillment of scripture in Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel to all nations, throughout the world are of a single, inseparable piece.  But why?  What makes for the connection?

 

Memory.

 

You are witnesses to these things.

 

We are witnesses to what has always been remembered. 

Jesus asks the disciples to remember.

He asks us to remember.

 

We are witnesses to what has come to pass in our midst.  What Luke wants us to know is that this is more than mere memory.

 

The reason why I am troubled by my forgetfulness, my inability to recall how Jesus got to heaven in the first place, is that I am missing the very thing that is happening before my very eyes.  This event is ongoing, eternal.  The Ascension is now.  The Ascension is always.  The fulfillment of scripture is happening before me every moment of every day.


Memory is not always simple recollection for the Christian.  We do not get a photo album of Jesus and his good works.  We get prophesy fulfilled.  We have before us open doors into heaven itself.  The true prophesy is a window into the will of God.  A prophesy fulfilled is the very presence of God with us. 

 

And it is this that I fear I forget when I forget that Jesus ascends.

 

I forget the blessing that is the Ascension.  I forget the blessing that is the fulfillment of prophesy.  I forget the blessing of Jesus himself as he extends his hands to his beloved.  I forget God extending Gods own hands to me.

 

Maybe I lump too much together.  But then there are Pauls words to the church in Ephesus. 

 

God put his power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places

 

And it is this power that is revealed in the church in Ephesus.  Why?  Because for some reason, whether it is publicity or earned reputation, the Ephesians apparently get it.  They know that they are the Body of Christ who sits

 

far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come.

 

It is not that the Church can ignore the law of the land, but that the Church understands that its very nature extends beyond all boundaries. Salvation exists for all.  This is the promise and proclamation of God.  This is Jesus charge to usthe last thing he says to us in Lukes Gospel.

 

You are witnesses to these things.

We are witnesses to the things that extend beyond what we simply recollect.

We are witnesses to the things that are beyond mere memory.

What we remember is the God Who Isthe salvation that is present and activegenerously holding out his hands to us granting us his blessing.

 

This is what we witness every daythis memory being fulfilled before our very eyes.

 

[ii] NRSV Luke 24:53

[iii] NRSV Luke 24:46

[iv] NRSV Luke 24:47