Today, in some parts of the Christian world, the Ascension of Christ is celebrated.
I (Dan) have not blogged thoughts in a long time, as I want them to be perfectly formulated, articulated, and punctuated before I post. However, I’m also aware that at some point I just need to write. So, here it goes.
The Ascension of Christ carries connotations of promises yet also the realities of uncertainty and ambiguity.
I can hear the voices of those on the hill that day:
Wait, you’re leaving?
Can’t you stay a bit longer?
We’re not ready for this?
We know you said this day was coming, but just a little more time…please?
Don’t leave us again…
Jesus meets their fears, anxieties, concerns, and protests with promise. This always seems to be the way of God.
Moses standing sandal-less before a burning bush: “How do I know that you will do what you say? What assurances do I have – do we have – that you will deliver and provide and, well, be our God?”
To these questions God responds with the promise that they will know its true when they arrive at the mountain to worship. In other words, “You will know my faithfulness once you go through everything and look back and see that I was with you throughout the journey.”
We could remember back to stories of Sarah being promised a son or Abraham being asked to take that son to a mountain. Or we can jump ahead some stories of scripture and find a young Mary being told by an angel of something seemingly impossible – a virgin having a son.
Jump ahead a few more stories, and we find that Son – Jesus – in angst in a garden, pleading, “I don’t want to do it this way, if there is another way… Yet if there’s no other way, then I will follow through…” which is really both short-hand for protest and response to God’s promises. The longer version could sound like Moses and Sarah (in doubt?) or Mary (in faith) – “But how can this be? Nevertheless, do as you say.”
God’s promise in the garden was not ease nor safety nor a pain-free nor a trouble-free journey. God’s answer to Jesus in the Garden was the promise resurrection.
Not the greatest guarantees to be sure. You will know after the fact, but there will be no money-back guarantees, no legal recourses if God doesn’t deliver with deliverance or resurrection.
And so the disciples find themselves on a hill, located along the continuum of all those who had dealings with this God of promises.
As Jesus ascends, he gives two promises: one, that he will return again, someday; and two, that his followers will not be left alone, yet that he will send the comforter – the Spirit – to empower and accompany his followers on their journeys until His return.
“Until his return in final victory” is the proclamation Christians make when reciting the communion liturgy. Sometimes in faith, sometimes as a reminder not to give up the faith, and sometimes as a memory when it seems all faith has failed.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus went up quickly with a slight twist and arc like the Space Shuttle, or if like a helium balloon slipping from the grasp of a child he drifted lazily up at the mercy of whatever winds might have been blowing.
In any case, that still leaves us with men and women standing on a hill watching the sky trying to get one last glimpse of Jesus. And I catch myself in this posture often – staring off trying to see something that is no longer visible hoping for it to reappear while pondering, “What now? What’s Next? What does all of this – whatever ‘this’ may be – mean?”
And maybe that’s why we give thanks for angels, or in my case two children, who call us back to reality. Who call us to be present and live in the now – no matter what our longings, hopes, anxieties and misgivings may be about the future.
Why are you standing there like that? The world is here and now. The work is here and now. And God’s invitation for us to join in the holy work of healing the world is really like a great game of hide-and-seek: in the great mystery of trying to find or trying to hide or feeling lost and wanting to be found or not wanting to be found at all by God’s love, grace. Ready or not, here I come. Ready or not, here healing comes. Ready or not, here forgiveness comes. Ready or not, here peace comes. And all of these are really just other ways of God promising presence, which is in fact what Jesus promises to those gathered on the hill – a promise which continues today: “I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.”
Why are you standing there like that? Go out and be God’s vessels of love, light and truth to the world. It won’t be easy, it won’t be safe, it won’t be trouble-free or pain-free. Rather, though, God promises presence.
John Wesley captured it this way, “and the best of all is God is with us.” And while this line can be dismissed as pious and hollow in the midst of violence and tragedy in Boston and Baghdad and Bangladesh – the reality of the promise of God’s presence is that no one has to feel alone alone. Whether this presence looks like companions being with us or someone allowing us to vent all of our disbelief and depression and rage, or even grace welcoming us home after we tried to be alone alone.
Why are you standing there like that? Look around you and see where people need to know God’s light and presence now. And if you have trouble seeing, then ask for wisdom and inspiration to see anew.
The story told of the people gathered on the hill is that they needed some time to live in to this new reality and responsibility of being light, love, truth, hope, and peace to this world. Yet as they lived into this new reality, they began to transform the world.
Why are you standing there like that? God is faithful. God will be faithful. Go out and be God’s presence so that the world will know God’s love.