Feast of the Ascension
May 4, 2005
Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23; Gospel: Luke 24: 49-53
Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler
The Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell, preacher
I’ve been blessed in my life with several good mentors. And it’s often some years AFTER they’ve been physically present in my life, that I’m able to fully internalize what they have taught me. I find myself saying things they’ve said to me. Or as I face a new challenge, I think, “I wonder what X would have done.”
As important as good guidance is, the point of our relationships with mentors is NOT to develop a dependency. Not to become a clone of them but to become more fully ourselves. This is ultimately an empowering, freeing thing.
Ever take a day off from work, or your family, only to find that they had managed quite well without you, thank you? Sometimes we bless others by withdrawing – if only temporarily – and giving them more responsibility.
Today’s gospel from Luke says that “While Jesus was blessing them he withdrew from them.”
How does Jesus bless his disciples while withdrawing from them?
Well, let’s look at how they responded to his ascension. They spent a lot of time in the temple, joyfully praising God. They also spent a lot of time praying in the upper room, along with Jesus’ mother and brothers, and some other women. Then they went out and did a lot of hard work in Jesus’s name. They became the teachers, and went on to bless a lot of other people’s lives. They grew. They struggled. And through them, Jesus continued to be present.
How does Jesus bless us, having withdrawn from us on earth?
He’s with us in spirit. But now we are blessed with a job to do; we’re not just passive students. Like the disciples, we are to carry on Jesus’s work. We are to become spiritually mature, even imitators of Christ. The author of Ephesians writes that we are to grow into the full stature of Christ. I love that phrase. It makes me feel like I ought to stand up straighter.
God expects us to grow up. Our faith is not meant to be a dependency. It’s something that strengthens us, yes, it’s something we can lean on, but it’s not a crutch. God needs our help to transform this world. You don’t have to look really close to see that there’s tremendous work to be done, to make this fragile island earth into a decent home for all. Talk about your fixer-upper.
So how do we do our part to bring God’s kingdom into existence on earth? And where’s our mentor Jesus, while we are to do all this work in His name?
Jesus is here when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, or visit those in prison. He’s there when we stand up for the rights of all people. Jesus said that when we reach out to people whom he called “the least of these” we do it for him. We are to see the face of Christ in everyone, especially people who live without hope.
Where else is Jesus present? He’s with us at Communion. This is what we mean by Real Presence. In some mysterious way – that in my tradition, as good Anglicans we don’t try to pin down -- the bread and wine also become the body and blood of Christ. He’s really there.
Jesus is present in our communities of faith. Whenever two or three are gathered in his name….he is there. Today’s reading from Ephesians describes the early Christian community at Ephesus. It presents the Ascension as the source of that community’s empowerment. It describes a community alive with faith and love and optimism, and the author’s hope that this church will only continue to grow in wisdom and revelation through Christ.
Jesus is present in our Scripture and tradition. And when we reflect on and question Scripture and tradition. As humans we’ve been blessed with reason, memory, and skill. I think God expects us to use them in all aspects of our lives, including our faith journeys.
Growing into the full stature of Christ means we don’t have to passively relate to Scripture and tradition. As spiritual grown-ups, we can use our own hearts and minds to learn from and nterpret them. We are the church and the church is something that evolves over time, growing we hope into the full stature of the body of Christ.
So, friends, what does the Ascension mean for us? How do we understand this highly mystical event? Whether we understand it literally or not, it has meaning for us.
On a symbolic level the Ascension means that everything on earth has been taken up with Jesus and blessed. What’s earthly is sacred. What we do here matters to God. All people and nations matter. Creation matters.
The Ascension also means that we’re no longer passive students. We’re coworkers with God. We need to take ownership to make God’s kingdom a reality on earth. Surely there is a corner that you or I can clean up, someone we can help tomorrow and the next. day
And where is Jesus, our saviour and mentor, after the ascension? Tradition tells us that he has ascended to the right hand of the Father. There is this aspect of the Ascension, that focus on the eternal, on the Jesus who is “up there” or “out there, ” ‘seated at the right hand of the Father”…somewhere on the time-space continuum.
But today… I’m asking us to focus on his presence here with us. To think about how Jesus lives in and among us. How although withdrawn from us he continues to bless us. How he lives in the poor and downtrodden, and our willingness to bless their lives. How he is present in our life and faith, and our questions about life and faith. He’s in our doubts, and our ability to grow spiritually and take responsibility. He’s in our faith communities. He in you and me. And, my friends, we’ve got work to do.
I close with these words from the Christian mystic Theresa of Avila, which capture the here-and-now essence of the Ascension.
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now.”
Brothers and sisters….are your sleeves rolled up?