Pastor Sherry’s Message for May 24, 2020,
Scriptures: Acts 1:6-14; Ps 68:1-10, 32-35; Jn 17:1-11
Today is Ascension Sunday, the anniversary of Christ’s departure from earth and arrival back into heaven. Of the 5 major Christian holidays, it is probably the least known or celebrated. We celebrate (1) Christmasàhis incarnation and birth; (2) Epiphanyàthe visit of the Gentile Magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem; (3) EasteràChrist’s bodily resurrection from the dead; (4) Pentecostàcoming up next Sunday, 50 days after Easter; it marks the bestowing of the HS upon all believers & the Birth of Christ’s Church;And (5) Ascension–>Perhaps the most often forgotten of the special moments in Jesus’ earthly life. It is described in Luke 24 and in our Acts lesson today.
Occuring 40 days after Easter, Ascension Day marks the end
of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The Gospels record 10 specific such appearances. The point of these was to demonstrate that He really had
overcome death and the grave. He ate and drank with folks. Something a ghost, a fake, or an illusion could not do. But we don’t see Him doing TV interviews today, do we, because He then left. He had completed His mission on earth. So, it was time for Him to be reunited with the
Father in Heaven. It was time for Him to regain all of the divine
privileges and prerogatives He gave up to come to earth.
As we read in our Acts lesson (Acs 1:6-14), He led the disciples to the Mount of Olives, gave them their “marching orders,” blessed them, then “lifted off.” They were to await the impartation and power of the HS. They were then to share their testimonies re Jesus with those…
1.) in Jerusalem where they were;
2.) then Judea, the rest of the county;
3.) then Samaria, the rest of the state;
4.) then to the all the world.
Next, as they watched, (v.9)…He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
This “FORGOTTEN Event”—the Ascension–was not neglected by the European Medieval Church: Reportedly it was a common practice–beginning in the 14th and continuing until the 17th centuries, to have a HOLE cut in the roof of the church, with a door on it. And each year on the FEAST OF THE ASCENSION, a STATUE of the RISEN CHRIST would be HOISTED UP by ropes up, up, up, through the hole in the ceiling of the church! The people would stand up and cheer, with arms upraised! And then the workers on the roof, once Jesus had “ascended,” would throw down flowers on the crowd below, as a sign of blessing– preferably red roses, in anticipation of the DAY of PENTECOST!
So, what is the significance of Jesus’ Ascension? He did not leave in a space suit or a rocket. He was taken away in a cloud, and not just any cloud. This cloud was pretty special. Remember the cloud that guided the Israelites in the wilderness by day (indicating the presence of God). Remember the cloud that hid Moses for 40 days as He communed with God at Mt. Sinai (meaning again that God was with him). Recall how the glory of God entered Solomon’s completed Temple, in the form of a cloud, indicating that the Father had taken up residence there. Remember that a cloud, on the Mount of Transfiguration, hid then removed Elijah and Moses following their conversation with Christ. The cloud in all four examples is the manifestation of the Shekinah Glory of God.
Jesus jetted back to heaven, in a miraculous conveyance, upheld by the power and majesty of God the Father. I have flown through clouds—they are vapor! Ordinary clouds will not support a person’s weight! Realizing this, some paintings from the Middle Ages depict Jesus’ feet as coming through the bottom of the clouds taking Him to heaven.
The Hebrew word for glory is kavud—weightiness. The weightier the gold or a diamond, the more valuable. When I was ordained, the Bishop laid his hands on my head as he prayed over me and for my future ministry. It felt to me then as though he was trying to push me through the floor. Later, I realized he had not been pushing me down, but that I had been blessed to have experienced the kavod of God’s at my ordination ceremony.
Psalm 68 is considered by Biblical scholars to be a psalm of the Ascension. It was written by King David and applauds God’s rule and reign over all the earth. But it also references God’s ability to ride on the clouds: Verse 4àSing to God, sing praise to His name, extol Him who rides on the clouds–His name is the LORD—and rejoice before Him. Also in verses 33-34, not part of our readings this morning, but relevantàTo Him who rides the ancient skies above, who thunders with mighty voice. Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the skies. David uses these images to express the extraordinary power of God and His control of/use of phenomena in nature for His purposes. Unlike us, He is not limited by nature. He created the laws of physics, but He Himself is not bound by them as we are.
Our Gospel lesson today (John 17:1-11) shows us the predicate for Jesus’ amazing transport. All of Chapter 17 is called “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer,” prayed by Him for the disciples (& for us), just before He goes to the Cross. Some Biblical scholars call this the “true Lord’s Prayer”; the prayer we ordinarily refer to as “the Lord’s Prayer” is what Jesus taught us to use as a template for our addresses to the Father. But this prayer is really a devout conversation between Jesus and His Father.
He asks 1st of all to be restored to His glory (v.1)àFather, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. Jesus has glorified His Father (added to His reputation) by completing His saving work at the Cross. He taught; He preached; He healed; He forgave sins; He interacted with ordinary folks, with religious leaders, and with government officials. Then He died taking the penalty for our sins upon Himself.
In this prayer, He is asking the Father for empowerment to bear up under the torture and humiliation of His trials and His execution; but also to return from the dead and to eventually ascend back into heaven. Those who were eye-witnesses to these events would have no doubt that Jesus was truly God!
So what is the meaning of the Ascension for us today? A chaplin in South Carolina described seeing a sign in a church thrift shop which read, Jesus loves you! Donations accepted. The Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ earthly work. God, in Christ, came to us to call us home to Him and to let us know we are loved beyond our human capacity to understand. There is nothing we have to do to earn God’s love. It’s ours. Like the sign said, Jesus loves you. That love comes with no conditions whatsoever. However, our contributions are joyfully accepted! We contribute love. We are also called to tell others about our amazing, loving God. We start with where we are, Wellborn, Florida; then out into Suwannee County; then to the state of Florida; finally to our nation and the world.
Just as there are no limits to God’s love, so too are there no limits on our opportunities to share God’s love with others. This week, be on the lookout for persons with whom God would have you share His love.
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams