Sunday, May 16, 2021

Ascension of our Lord

Luke 24:44-53

Thursday was the fortieth day of Easter, which we celebrate as the day of Ascension of our Lord. It is the day that we hear about in today’s readings from Acts and the gospel when Jesus leaves the disciples and, in the three-tier world of the Bible, ascends to heaven or as we say in the creeds, to the right hand of the Father.

Luke says,

Then he led [the disciples] out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. (24:50-51)

In Christian art, there are many images of this scene.[i] The earliest image, from the 4th century BCE, shows Jesus grasping the hand of God as he marches up a mountain and out of the frame of the landscape and the presence of the disciples.

In Rembrandt’s painting from the 17th century, the disciples are looking up at the illuminated Christ whose nail-scarred hands reach out in prayer or blessing of humankind. His feet are obscured by a cloud, but winged cherubs surround the hem of his robe and his feet, and the faces of the heavenly host surround his.

And in the scene that Salvador Dali painted in the 20th century, you see the dirt-stained soles of Jesus’ feet, as if you are standing with the disciples from the Acts text, looking up at the sky, watching Christ ascend into a brightly lit orb as a female figure gazes on the scene from above.

However you imagine the scene, Christ’s post-resurrection ascension is the end of the Easter season and the beginning of ten days of waiting for the mystery and miracle of Pentecost when God’s power in the Holy Spirit comes to us. Ascension invites us to be open to God’s presence among us and to learn to see Jesus with our hearts, instead of with our eyes.[ii]

Jesus does not abandon us. Jesus leaves us with God’s blessing. In fact in the ascension account in the longer ending of Mark’s gospel, Mark says,

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them …. (16:19-20)

While Eastertide and the resurrection appearances show us how God’s love for us conquered even death, and that God’s love is not only for us who already believe but for the world, the Ascension gives us our commission.

Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite [geet] has written sonnets, or poems, for many of the Church’s festival days and in his verses for Ascension he says,

He took us with him to the heart of things,
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and heaven-centered now…[iii]

Jesus blesses the disciples, and us, and then continues to work alongside us as we tend to the broken-hearted.

The prophet Isaiah calls on God’s people to loosen the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, and let the oppressed go free (58:6); to share bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into [our] house; and when [we] see the naked, to cover them. (58:7) And in Matthew 25 in one of his parables, Jesus tells the disciples, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

So, who are the broken-hearted you encounter?

Perhaps it is the wife or husband who has been left alone by the death of their beloved. Perhaps it is the person whose mental illness has isolated them and made them angry and difficult to be with. Perhaps it is the young couple whose pregnancy recently ended in miscarriage or the parents who have had to bury their child. Or perhaps it is the person who loves someone who is suffering from an active and destructive addiction. It may even be you.

And if it is, hear these words for yourself. God’s love and blessing are for you, too.

In this post-resurrection world we are asked to remember that the heart of the gospel is to love one another as we are loved by God. We are asked to let our lives speak, that we would be witnesses to God’s love for the world.

We begin this work here in worship, praise and prayer and then, like the disciples, we go out into the world, confident God is working alongside us where we are asked to see Jesus with our hearts and not just our eyes.



[ii] “Soul of the Preacher” Janice Maclean.

[iii] Malcolm Guite. Sounding the Seasons – Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year. 45.

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