The message below is as close as I can get to what I gave yesterday. The scriptures were: Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, and Luke 24:44-53. Title was so original, NOT, “Ascension Day.”
This afternoon we will be going to the Linton High School graduation, Herreid was yesterday afternoon. I believe Eureka has theirs coming up on Saturday the 23rd, and other schools across the border were last night or even Friday night. Our grandson Jaxon even graduated from pre-school on Friday afternoon. Paulina attended, but James and I had our priorities in order as there was a regional track meet to attend. I hope you see the irony in that.
I mention these events to highlight how some events happen year after year, but not necessarily on the same date and not necessarily as events you find printed out on your calendar unless you have gotten a special school calendar with all of those important dates on them. In fact if it wouldn’t be for the local papers or the internet, I wouldn’t have known when any of those graduations were scheduled. Graduations might be important events in our lives when we have someone involved, but when we don’t we have to be paying attention to know when they are scheduled, or we might miss out on them.
For the disciples originally and later the early Christians, Ascension day was one of those important days that they celebrated and wanted to know about and be part of, especially the first, the original day that Jesus ascended to his glory. From what we read in Luke it was a day of great joy and happiness to know that Jesus purpose on earth was finally complete, finally fulfilled.
In our house we have at least four calendars hanging in various rooms. I went around and checked them last night and found that about half of them do not have Ascension Day marked. In fact, this fancy new phone that I have has dots on the holidays, such as Christmas and Easter and Labor Day and Memorial Day and on and on, but Ascension Day is not marked with a dot.
Apparently, it is not a noteworthy holiday, or a day of any importance to some people in our “modern” era. I suppose we could expect that from the people who don’t hold any religious beliefs. But it seems to be getting to the point that certain churches don’t bother observing it either. I guess we are just as guilty. We don’t hold a special service on Ascension Day, which was last Thursday by the way. When I checked the liturgy website for our church, it didn’t list anything to use for an Ascension Day service. There wasn’t anything in the archive listing for it either. I ended up using a book we have in the library (Thank You Pastor Dianne for sharing) to give me an idea of what to do. Let’s say I wasn’t surprised. But I was surprised to find that there were no notes at all in terms of research or history or any of the directions for this scripture on our website that are normally in place.
In fact, I was just a bit miffed when I opened one of my books and it suggested that perhaps Luke had embellished the story a bit in his writing of the account of Jesus last words with the disciples. It hinted that the focus should be on the words he left the disciples and not much should be said about the event that happened with those words. It almost seemed that the author of that book wasn’t really willing to acknowledge the fact of the ascension.
OK, I get it that some people are not really comfortable talking about things that we can’t describe or explain in a simple matter of fact way. Not everyone is able to fathom or what is the current phrase? Wrap their head around this picture of Jesus going off a ways from the disciples and disappearing into the clouds. This sounds more like a “beam me up Scotty” sort of science fiction fantasy from Star Trek or Star Wars than a real life experience. And maybe that sort of thing could happen in the ancient times, in Biblical times, but none of that stuff happens now days, at least not around here. Right? Yet we have mathematicians working on a formula to prove the God factor. Really? And we wonder why should we should observe the ascension of Jesus?
I seriously, and I mean seriously, believe there are many things that happen that we can’t always explain in a straight matter of fact way. Why does a thought about someone occur to us at a random moment and then we hear from them in a phone call or someone telling us something about them or some other “coincidence” hits us about that very person? Some of us have talked of these things before. I don’t believe they are just random, and I can’t buy the story that the ascension of Jesus is just a story embellished by the author.
The ascension of Jesus to sit at the right hand of God is the final step in the fulfillment of his purpose here on earth. My mother used to have a fit about this day as being THE most important holy day of the Christian year, and I never understood it until I started looking at why we would observe it. Good grief isn’t it enough that we have a big deal about Christmas and Easter and even Good Friday and Maundy Thursday so why should we have to have another day of celebration around Jesus?
Well, let’s think about it. What if everything else happened in the life of Jesus, but not his ascension? What if he was born, grew up, completed his ministry, was crucified and rose from the dead only to walk the earth forever? Or what if Jesus never was anything more than a man who was brought back from the dead, say like someone in a coma, or resuscitated after an accident or such? What if they took him from the cross and nursed him back to life?
Without the third part of Jesus’ mission: 1) Birth as a human. 2) Crucifixion-resurrection. 3) Ascension to sit at the right hand of God, there is no hope for us. Christmas and Easter are great events for us to celebrate but without the Ascension, we have no chance to join with Jesus in the resurrection.
Luke records that as he was leaving them, Jesus told the disciples that they would be given a power from heaven; they were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them to guide them in witnessing about him. These are the words that appear to be the focus of the text. These are the teachings that Jesus leaves for the disciples and for us, that we are to go out and share the message and the mission of Christ with all the nations. But if Jesus had not gone to be with God, had he not left the disciples and sent the Holy Spirit, we would not have that direction and we would not have had the opportunity to also be spiritual beings, to be joint heirs with him in His father’s kingdom..
The resurrection and the ascension are the two points that make Christianity different from all other religions. Jesus is more than just a prophet who lived a moral life and taught people to be just and fair and kind to others. Following Jesus and living what we call a Christian life is more than a code of ethics or a way to leave our mark in the world and then we die and we live on in the hearts of others and in the memories we leave behind, or the children we beget.
Being a Christian, believing in Jesus and all that he was about is more than that. Accepting Christ means that we have the opportunity to join with Jesus in paradise. And it doesn’t matter how many works we have done on this earth. He accepts us as we are just like he accepted that thief who hung on the cross beside him. But, we might want to experience the joy and the excitement and the happiness that the disciples exhibited when they left the area of the ascension. We might expect them to be sad and gloomy like they were after Jesus crucifixion. Maybe not in the exact same way, but you might expect them to be a little down and out knowing that Jesus had left them physically, but they were not sad at all. Instead they were overjoyed. They understood what was to come. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they knew that when it was over they would join with Jesus in paradise. Much like we just sang, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea. What a wonderful picture to keep in our minds. What a wonderful thing to know that because of Christ’s Ascension we too have a place beyond the here and now. We too have the chance to be more than just a physical human person. We have the opportunity to be heirs with Christ and know the same joy the disciples felt on the day of the first Ascension. Let us go today and share that jubilation with others. Amen.