Can you imagine the wide variety of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were running through the hearts, minds, and souls of those standing in a field outside of Bethany with Jesus? Can you imagine the excitement and the disappointment and the joy and the sorrow and the understanding and the confusion that those men and women were filled with as Jesus simply disappears before their eyes?
Just when the followers of Jesus thought things could not get more mind-boggling…just when they were beginning to settle in again after this whole “resurrection” thing happened…just when it seemed they might eventually understand what was going on, Jesus Ascends in to the sky!
Sometimes it is really hard to be present in the present and appreciate what is happening right now. It is easy to project and imagine all of the other things that those folks might have been thinking about as Jesus left their presence.
“Where did he go?”
“Was it something we said?”
“Did someone steal him?”
“We are not ready for this to be over!”
“What was he talking about with ‘the Holy Spirit’ and the ‘Power from on High’?”
“Is now when the strong armies show up and Restore Israel?”
“When will the fighting begin?”
“Was Jesus really ever with us?”
“Was he lying to us?
“Why would he leave us alone?”
There is so much that could have been going on for them and probably was going on in their heads……but an important question is what did they really need to be doing right then?
As the scene leads up to these final moments we see the disciples wanting more answers and Jesus offering them some reassurance of what would happen next.
But what did they really need right then?
This week, the reading from Acts and from Luke are accounts of Christ’s ascension. He has been crucified, buried and resurrected. He has appeared amidst the living where he was touched by them, shared meals with them and continued to walk and talk and teach at their sides. And now, in both accounts, he reminds them of his connection to Israel’s covenant tradition through Moses and then through the prophet Isaiah and through John’s baptism of repentance. He even leaves them with some idea of what is to come – a Spirit to be the presence of God among them. He doesn’t really tell them how or why or when – in fact he sort of scolds them for seeking that security and knowledge. They will know what they need to know in God’s time.
Surely those who actually witnessed this came away with a sense of wonder and awe….or maybe just confusion…or maybe a sense of expectation…or maybe disappointment.
But what about those who didn’t see this amazing event? What about those who never physically encountered the risen Christ? Paul wasn’t with the Apostles who sat beside Jesus as his ministry expanded. He wasn’t among those who saw the stone rolled back to reveal an empty tomb. He wasn’t among those who shared a meal with the risen Christ. But he had a profound understanding – a profound passion for the teachings and the sacrifice and the covenant fulfilled in Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul shares his hope that God will give this community a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” as they come to know God. Surely this gives us a hint about how Paul cultivated his own relationship with a risen Jesus that he never really touched.
[A sidebar about the Psalms: The psalms are a collection of traditional songs and prayers used by the Hebrews in their worship in ancient times and today. These traditional verses were recorded at a time when the Hebrews were scattered by yet another shift in their political circumstances. Scattered through many lands in the middle east, recording their worship songs and prayers was a way to establish and maintain a connection to their worship traditions. There are thanksgivings psalms, praise psalms and lament psalms. They are included in the lectionary readings so that they can be read responsively or sung or prayed in connection to the overarching themes for worship in any given week. This week, the psalms celebrate the Hebrews’ historic relationship with Yahweh in shouts of praise.]
We’re faced this week with the faith and hope and vision of people touched by the risen Jesus. The eyewitnesses had a different story – a different account of what they had seen and felt and heard. And Paul was connected to his own experience of revelation and wisdom, wishing upon the community of Ephesus.
What sort of interaction did the eyewitnesses need to be having with Jesus in their last moments with him? Did they need more theology? Did they need more details? Or did they need to simply be present with their friend and teacher as he shared these last experiences with them?
And what about those of us who were not there? What about those of us (like Paul maybe) who have experienced a revelation of God in a different way? Did he (do we) feel short-changed by the different kind of revelation and understanding – is our faith any less because we have (or maybe have not had) a different kind of encounter with God and Jesus?
What has been your eyewitness account of Jesus in the world?
What have you gained from such encounters?
Do you feel like you are still waiting for such an encounter? If so, what helps you understand God?
your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth,
confined by time and space.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place
the presence among us
of him who is head over all things and fills all,
even Jesus Christ our ascended Lord. Amen.
“The Ascension,” Laurence Hull Stookey, The United Methodist Hymnal