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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Ascension Sunday

Happy Ascension Sunday! We are celebrating an important feast that occurred this past Thursday, because it is a major event in the life of Christ and the church. Someone once asked the rector why he thought people no longer considered this holyday very important. The priest just laughed and said that Ascension Day is no longer enthusiastically celebrated because it doesn’t fall on a Sunday, there are no Hallmark cards, and no one gets any presents.

 

There’s no question. It is also an odd feast. We can relate to almost everything else that happened to Jesus. Like us, he was born into a human family, ate, drank, and slept at night. He both loved and befriended people and got angry and forgave them. The Scripture tells us that he wept, and I cannot imagine that he did not laugh. He died, as will we all and, though we don’t know a lot about it, we hope to be rejoined with those we love and with Jesus in the life to come. 


But this ascending into heaven part is where we might get lost. If you Google the images for “Ascension” you will find a plethora of both classic art and some interesting contemporary interpretations. You may have seen the Ascension depicted in a stained-glass window, a group of bewildered disciples huddled on a hillside. A short distance away Jesus hovers ready to take off like a hot air balloon. Some of these paintings depict only two feet protruding from a cloud which already has swallowed Jesus up. 


 The first readers of this account really believed that Jesus ascended to a literal heaven, a specific location from whence he would return at the end of time. While we cannot deny the possibility of an ascension into heaven, we miss the point of it all if we focus on Christ’s outer space travel or try to guess the specific location of heaven rather than on what the implication of this event is for us, the church.

 

My guess is that the witnesses to the Ascension of Jesus would have stood there staring into space for an eternity were it not for the two angels who challenged them. “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” And herein lays the heart of the story and the reason we should not underestimate the significance of this feast. The Ascension may seem to be other worldly, but it should not direct our focus upward but rather downward. The words of the angels imply that there is work to be done here in this lifetime in this moment and in the amazing but broken world God has entrusted to us.

 

We the church are a wonderful mix of people, not unlike the gang Jesus left standing befuddled on the day of his Ascension, with just as diverse an assortment of outlooks, perspectives, beliefs, and levels of faith. Our common thread is our humanity, the reality that we are made in the image of our Creator God, and, because of that gift, is our capacity to love one another.

 

There is a word that appears in all three of this morning’s readings: Power. “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” “the immeasurable power for us who believe…” “…clothed with power from on high.”


I think maybe in some unexplainable way we have discovered that there is power among us here that feels suspiciously like God’s Spirit at work. There is power in the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, in the ministry of healing and preaching and there is power in the community that gathers to worship here, partake of that sacred meal, and then go into the world renewed and ready to join in God’s work of restoration.

 

Renowned preacher and author Mother Barbara Brown Taylor illustrates the presence of that power by a real-life example of a woman with a recurrent cancer who was told she had six months to live. The church gathers around her and her family—laying hands on them and anointing with blessed oil, bringing them casseroles, cleaning their house.

 

Someone comes up with the idea of giving her a foot massage and painting her toenails red, which does more for her spirits than any visit from the rector. She gives her jewelry away, she let’s her driver’s license expire, she starts writing poetry again, She prepares to die, but instead, she gets better.

 

On Christmas Eve she is back in church for the first time in months, with her oxygen tank slung over her shoulder and a clear plastic tube running under her nose. After the collect, she makes her way to the lectern to read the lesson from Isaiah. Every candle in the place glitters in her eyes. “Strengthen the weak hands, “she reads, bending her body toward the words, “and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.’”


When she sits down, the congregation knows they have not just heard the word of the Lord. They have seen it in action.”

 

The Ascension is far more about God coming down than about Jesus going up. Our calling is not to stand around gazing up towards the heavens. Our calling is to heal and transform the world—this world. In that awesome task we are no less than partners with God. 


When I was in college, I had a colorful wall hanging that read, “Bloom where you are planted.” So, by the grace of God, we’ve been planted here as the community of faith in Milford, now for one hundred years. We continue to bloom and spread the seeds of God’s love even in the most ordinary ways.


The church of Christ still standing. The church of Christ still standing.

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