Sermon, Ascension Day, May 24th, 2020 , St Petri
Luke 24:44-53 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Friends, we, as church, may have ‘left the building’ for a time, but Jesus has not ‘left the building’ of planet earth or our lives. That is the grand good news of Ascension Day.
If there was ever a moment to listen to the man up on the hill speaking final words to his soon to be church as he shifts places from seen to unseen, from only one place and time to all places and times, it is now.
Jesus now switches places from filling one city to filling all cities; from filling one human life to filling all human lives, from being present in one place and time in history to being present across all time and places in time, including ours.
This is why he says to his friends before the whole crucifixion and resurrection event even happened:
28 ‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:28-29)
He tells again that he is not seen as he once was, and that this is good for us. Because even more than this COVID virus, Jesus ‘goes viral’ as he takes up his reign high on that ascension hill, and unlike this COVID virus, his rule brings new life and heals our bodies and our world.
Unlike us, Jesus is now unrestricted; hidden and yet heard and known by his voice to the eyes of faith – our faith.
How can you put your faith in his presence and all his words to you? Hear how Luke tells us of the moment: Three things tell you that Jesus has not left us.
Jesus ascends and is hidden in a cloud, says Luke. This is no mere fluffy white cumulonimbus cloud or some mere foggy misty cloud. This is the ‘Glory Cloud’, the visible sign of God’s presence. Just like in the OT where God dwelt with his people in the “glory cloud” on My Sinai or on the desert journey or in the tabernacle and then the Jerusalem Temple, the cloud is a sign of God’s presence not his absence. Jesus is not alone. He is enveloped by the Father. He is not leaving but is shifting to be being present in a different way – a much more complete way.
To bring that same truth home Luke tells us that Jesus is doing something as he is moving – Jesus is blessing his people as he ascends. The God-given gift in which Jesus ascends; the last word that he speaks that changes the human heart is blessing. Not “goodbye”, or “I’ll be back”, or “all the best as you figure out how to be good enough or do enough and be enough to please me”, but “Bless you…”.
And the tense of the Greek words is a never ending present. “The Lord is blessing you and will bless you forever, the Lord is making his face to shine upon you and will forever, the Lord is looking with favour upon you, and will forever….”
JOY FILLED PEOPLE
From gloomy fear and doubt to unrestricted hope and joy! These once fearful and disappointed people are jumping for joy. Like when you experience something good you never thought possible or even knew existed before the moment happened, their inner being is on fire.
With all this COVID stuff and reflections on WWII it inspires, I think of that famous footage from 1945 of the guy in a suit and a hat dancing and jumping on a city street in Melbourne as the tram rolls behind him with thousands of fellow Aussies experiencing a joy they never thought would come as the announcement comes that that terrible war is finally over.
The disciples are like that hopping, skipping man. They know his love, his peace in a Holy Spirit driven way. They are become unstoppable as they live together worshiping in the ancient worship of God at the city Temple and sharing their lives together in their homes and streets from this moment on.
So, can you see, the Ascension is all about Jesus’ being fully present in every way in blessing which creates joy and hope? He ascends to be fully present in every dimension – spiritual, physical, psychological, emotional…..and his presence is one of blessing for his people.
Is this why Paul can lead us in this prayer
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21).
Friends, Jesus rules. How? He rules in mercy and forgiveness by his Word. By his Spirit Word he gives an everlasting inheritance to any sinner who calls on his name in repentance and faith.
Surely this gives us confidence and hope for now in this restricted time and later when it is not., because he is unrestricted in both.
Our faith, our hope, and our love are never restricted because the Spirit of Christ is not restricted by anything. He reigns in peace and blessing when we are together or alone, gathered in one big church building or being ‘little churches’ in our homes.
Jesus still has a church gathered small for his mission.
I believe he is rebuilding our relationships and taking them to a deeper level in this restricted time.
We might be becoming a church that is shaped like a network of smaller ‘little churches’ gathered around our area where nurture, care, fellowship, learning and witness fan out in even more ways in our streets.
Maybe this COVID time is the Spirit making us a bit like Jesus when he ascended – Jesus not merely in one place and time, but across all places and times. We are moving from gathering in one building at one time to gathering to in buildings at different times as Jesus continues to call us to participate with the Spirit in the same mission – to share the love and hope of Jesus.
I wonder. ….. i wonder whether you wonder?
Whoever you are, however you are, wherever you are, there is the Spirit calling, gathering, enlightening you today by the powerful word of this hidden yet gloriously ruling Saviour.
Jump for joy today, like they did when the War was over; like the Apostle’s did as they came down from the mountain to gather together and praise God whom they now knew as so much more than they previously knew – now a kind and loving Father, a Ruling brother and Saviour, a calling and enlightening Spirit always with them.