Jesus Ascends, our high priest, Ascension Day 2016

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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit. Amen

Starting at Ash Wednesday, through Lent, all of the Holy week remembrances. Sunday morning we celebrate “He Has Risen! He has risen indeed hallelujah.” It can be tough for us to observe all the important milestones of the Lent/Easter season. They are packed together and they kind of come at you, bang/bang. It’s not over either, another big one, Pentecost where the disciples are really grabbed by their collars and  moved right out into the fray.

Luke seems to give us the most complete account of this time. He might have been there and he certainly had access to people who were right there. He doesn’t stop in his Gospel, his next book, Acts, picks up from where he stopped. Acts still has them standing there gaping into the sky. Hey, I don’t blame them, even in this technologically advanced age, we don’t see people being levitated out of sight into the sky. That they wouldn’t be standing there gaping would surprise me, because I would be. Seems a little disjointed between the end of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Acts, but either way the disciples are now being moved on, in the Holy Spirit. Sure they would have liked Jesus to be with them physically, who wouldn’t want to hang with Jesus. But it’s, obviously, physically impossible. The entire world is about to find out about Jesus, He can’t be everywhere all the time, physically, and it is now time for a new chapter. It is time for the Holy Spirit to appear and because He is God/Holy Spirit, He can be everywhere. God Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equally God, they are all omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, but in Spirit, we can be that physical temple of the Holy Spirit. He can dwell in all of us, as Spirit. And He will be what physically drives the disciples, Paul and new Christians to bring the Gospel of salvation in Christ to the rest of the world.

Backing up to Easter morning, they thought that He was gone, they were despondent, defeated. Luke 24 starts out by telling us that the women are visiting the tomb, having no expectation that they are there to properly prepare Jesus’ Body, something they were unable to do because of the Passover Sabbath. Jesus wasn’t there! How could that be? There are two men there, angels, telling the women that Jesus has risen. Just as He told them He would, but of course who would believe that? But it’s true! Now they have a second chance, He has risen, He has returned. Luke doesn’t go into detail about what was said in the forty days after the resurrection. Jesus had explained that He would be killed, but then He would be resurrected. Obviously, they weren’t listening then. But now so much has happened, and the Body is gone and two angels have told them straight out what has happened, who knows maybe it’s the same two angels who pop up while they’re standing there staring into the sky. Now that Jesus had their undivided attention, He would have mine, I’ve never known anyone to be resurrected and yet He is right here. So now He has their undivided attention, He was crucified and now He’s alive. That has to be enough to keep even the attention of the most attention deficient person. During the forty days He has probably told them what will happen next, that He does have to leave, again. But this time He is leaving as the Lord of creation, He is going to the glory of being seated at the right hand of the Father. Just as you see in the stained glass window above me. He has been to the deepest depths, beaten beyond recognition, no food/water, tortured, naked, nailed into and lifted up on a rough wooden cross and then a spear drive through Him. All this to be the payment for our sins. Reduced to the lowest humiliation, our creed says He even descended to Hell. Certainly not condemned, but to free those who are now free in Him.

We see that Jesus leads His disciples to Bethany and some translate the word “Bethany” as the House of Obedience. It certainly does seem appropriate. Another writer describes Bethany as a “miserable” village. So Jesus isn’t giving them some “white glove” treatment. Certainly the disciples are going to find being obedient, is going to cause some misery. While the disciples are going to be getting further orders, seems as if Jesus is making a point? This is the last time you will see me and as I said, He probably has told them what is about to happen. Gives them some final instructions and rises into the air helped by angels. They don’t seem upset in any way that He’s leaving, He gives them a final blessing, they worship Him and “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” It does seem as if the disciples have a much more profound understanding of what is going to happen. Nonetheless they are still human, they may have returned to Jerusalem joyously. Jesus no doubt gave them promises and assurances. The disciples had seen Jesus do miracles, teach with a wisdom that is beyond what they had known from any human. They saw Him die on a cross, they saw Him resurrected, now they see Him rise far into the sky, into heaven. Augustine writes that “Jesus ascends in his body so that the person of Jesus, divine and human nature is not separated.”[1] He is now the Great High Priest, very God, very human as the writer of Hebrews tells us: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” That great high priest has to be man, but He is also the all mighty God the Son. Our Lord and Savior. Leo the Great submits that because Jesus has returned to heaven, both God and man, the disciples have further assurance of the fact that they enter into heaven along with Him. So surely, at this point they will return to the upper room joyously. But even a day can make a big difference, and there has been a lot of attention put on the disciples. So when we see them again, a week from Sunday, they will be hunkered down in fear. They have had the assurances of Jesus just ten short days ago, but they still do not have the Holy Spirit as they will on Pentecost, so their joy only lasts so long, they probably don’t know exactly what the next step is, ten days is a long time when you are waiting, and their joy is back to fear. But with the Holy Spirit in them, they will charge out, not just in joy, but in determination, guided by the promised Holy Spirt who will lead them to various places in the known world, and who faithfully leads us today where the Lord had destined us to serve Him.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin

[1] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture p 391

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