Ascension Thursday—Part I

June 2, 2014

I am feeling particularly grateful for the discipline of writing this blog, mostly because I have failed to produce anything in the last week and am reminded of how it keeps me centered if I do. The good news is that my energy level is near normal and I have been busy re-entering my world, including going back to active duty (part time) at the church I have served. No excuses here, just an observation that the writer’s life is a lot harder to structure than you might think! Life happens, people call, requests come in, and whoosh! There goes a day (or two, or three).

The other factor challenging me anew is that there are just too many daily jobs that are best done “first thing in the morning.” Exercise and blogging are constantly slugging it out for priority, so that situation needs sorting, especially now that the weather is heating up. I reveal all this in extremely good humor, grateful to God for meaningful work, good health, and the joy of being his disciple.

So in all the hub-bub, I missed a timely comment on Ascension Thursday, which was last week. Because the message of that day (the Word) is so germane to Life as We Know It, I will settle on “better late than never.” Here goes:

The disciples, blown away by the news and unfolding significance of Christ’s resurrection, have forty days with him. His appearances are widespread (up to 500 people at one time, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:6) and, as noted in my previous post, there are times when he surprises them by cooking breakfast on the Galilean beach or otherwise popping in. During this five-week period, Jesus’ messages are somewhat sparse and it doesn’t appear that the disciples comprehend much of the future. So some time between Day 1 and Day 40, a Thursday as we celebrate it on the church calendar, Jesus meets up with the Eleven for a farewell speech and a charge (Matthew 28):

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and [lit. Therefore, as you go…] make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Luke tells it this way:

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke recaps the story at the beginning of the Book of Acts:

3After his suffering [Jesus] presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Clearly, Jesus is preparing his followers for something big, but not what they might imagine. The question about restoring the kingdom to Israel reveals their Messianic script. Now believing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, they expect he is going to take over the universe and restore sovereignty to Israel, right? Jesus deftly hands that question off to the Father, and instead gives them a set of instructions for right here, right now:

1. You have a special calling because you have personally witnessed my life, death, and resurrection. You will be my witnesses.

2. You’re fanning out from this place with a job to do.

3. That job is making disciples by two means, incorporating them into the Fellowship through baptism and teaching them everything I have told you.

4. You can’t do this job without some special help, so . . . wait for it! But then . . .

5. Once officially empowered, you will turn the world upside down.

With their prior hopes of a Messianic take-over, I suspect that the disciples figured Jesus would do all the work of ushering in the Kingdom. They could go back to their fishing or other livelihoods and bask in the glory soon to overtake them. But no; Jesus commissions them for service that would be the primary focus of their lives, whether they preached or created Christian communities or served in some other capacity along the Way. That alone is a rather staggering thought, because we of course stand—in our generation—as recipients of the Great Commission also.

As I re-enter my life, transformed though I be, I am challenged to accept the requirement of effort as part of my job in Christ’s Kingdom. No, no, my friends, not “works” earning salvation, but the role God has given me (and you!) to demonstrate and make visible the reality of Christ’s reign on earth. So no matter how busy we get with what we think is “real life,” our real calling is to live into the Great Commission and do the work that is not finished yet. That work is difficult, sometimes without visible fruit, requiring ingenuity and passion, sacrifice and service. And there is nobody else to do it besides us!

In my next post, I will explore the significance of Christ’s Ascension.

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One Response to “Ascension Thursday—Part I”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    And implicit in Jesus’ instructions to his disciples is “Do not–I repeat–do not permit the world to intrude on the truth I have taught you. And be sure and watch out for the 21st century.” There, you have it!

    And, dear Mary, I need not remind you to rest in the Lord for underneath you are those everlasting arms. Taxing one’s self could bring on a setback. Be good to yourself and don’t let your cyber congregation or other friends and neighbors push you along. I love your blog and you.

    Joyfully,
    Eleanor

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