Up and away? (May 17, 2015)

Read Luke 24:44-53
What are we to do with this account of Jesus going up to heaven?
Jesus gives his last instructions to his disciples and then mysteriously lifts off from the ground and is taken higher and higher into the air. As he ascends, his disciples watch, amazed. They continue to stare until Jesus is hidden from sight by a cloud. He is gone.
To our 21st century minds this is edging toward science fiction. When we think of people who can “take off” Superman comes to mind, or Peter Pan, or Tinkerbell, or other fictional characters. No-one in real life can just lift off and disappear into the sky and never come down again.
We would expect them to be sad. But, for those first disciples, the ascension of Jesus into heaven was, and is, good news.
Notice that the disciples are not sad after Jesus’ ascension. Instead, we are told that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (24:52-53) Those disciples clearly did not think that Jesus had left them. Jesus has abandoned them.
For those early Christians the ascension meant that Jesus went up so that he could be the ruler of the universe and that included the earth, every person individually, and the church.
Those early Christians did not think of heaven and earth as totally separate places like we do. We think of heaven as “way out there” somewhere, far away from earth. But, for those early Christians, there was a crossing over of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm.
Remember, Jesus disappeared into a cloud. He did not go into outer space or to another planet. The cloud in the Bible represents the presence of God, the place of God’s dwelling, his heavenly realm that intersects with our earthly existence. There, Jesus reigns with God over all creation.
For many people, this is the part of Jesus’ ascension that makes them uneasy, about religion, and about the church. It sounds like a world of Kings and Queens and people subject to them – an oppressive system of governance that we left behind as part of our history. It can cause people to think that religion is oppressive, that it’s all about controlling people.
But those first disciples did not see Jesus as oppressive at all. Jesus showed us god’s kindness and compassion and love. Jesus, by his life, showed us that there is much hope and promise in God, for the healing of this world. To have this Jesus rule over us, is not oppressive, but life-giving.
The New Testament writers tell us that Jesus’ ascension ushered in a new age, where Christ rules over all – an age of hope and healing. But the old age has not yet completely disappeared and that new age has not yet completely come. This is a time when heaven and earth overlap, or intersect.
Cosmic forces do battle, but the outcome of the war is certain. Jesus will reign; his kingdom will come. It’s what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” The new is breaking in, and the old will eventually give way to the new.
We who live “in Christ” now on this earthly realm can also share in the blessings of his heavenly realm. We share in the peace and joy, love and compassion, comfort and hope that has broken into our world and which will one day reach its fullness when Christ reappears.
Last Sunday, we read Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, where Paul says, “You have been raised with Christ.” (Colossians 3:1) Right now in this life, through God’s abundant grace, the Christian is already raised with Christ to eternal life. We already share in the blessings of Christ’s kingdom.
Today we have a baptism. When we are baptized – we belong to the new age of Christ’s kingdom. As baptized children of God, we are already, here and now, citizens of Christ’s kingdom that is breaking into our world.
So Jesus is here, with Benjamin being baptized, and with each one of us – and not just here, but in every place that we go. Jesus has entered a new dimension of his existence so that he could be with every one of us at the same time no matter what part of the world we might be travelling or what kind of dangers we might be experiencing.
Jesus going “up” to heaven doesn’t mean that he is watching us from afar; uninvolved in what is happening in our lives, or perhaps getting involved only when he feels inclined to do so.
“Up” in the ascension story doesn’t mean far away or absent or disconnected with what is happening in our lives. Instead, Jesus’ ascension means that:
• His love for you is totally reliable.
• His help in times of trouble is guaranteed.
• His comfort in times of grief and anxiety is unfailing.
• His forgiveness can be trusted.
• His presence and strength when everything is getting too much and all too heavy is a certainty.
• His ear is always ready to listen to our prayers.
It means that while tragedies will happen to you and those you love; while there will be times of sickness and grief, your Savior will be there for you and with you.
He has power and authority over all things and even though you might like things to turn out differently, be certain that you can trust his love, and you can live in him as he most certainly lives in you.
It means that though Jesus is King and Lord and ruler over the universe, his love for you is deep and steadfast and enduring. He is the one who comes to us in the simple bread and wine of Holy Communion. He gives us his body and blood and as we receive that, we have a sense of the intersecting of the heavenly world with our earthly lives.
We have in our hands the body and blood of the ruler of the universe who becomes part of us and we are joined to him as we eat and drink.
The ascended Jesus is closer to each of us than we realize. In communion, he has taken up residence in us.
If Jesus were to send you an email or send you a text today maybe it would say something like this:
“My precious child, I am with you just like I was with my disciples over 2,000 years ago. I love you. “And I will never leave your side, and I will never forget you…
“…especially on that day when you take your final breath. I will take you from here to the heavenly realm where you join all those who have gone before you.
“In the meantime I have given you, as a member of my church, a job to do. Be my witness. Love others in my name. Teach others about me. Tell others to trust me and to follow me, so that everyone may come to know me and be raised with me. I will be with you to give you my strength and help to do it.
– Your Savior and Lord, Jesus.”
Jesus has ascended. He has not gone from our world, but has entered more fully into our world, that he might be present with you and with me, and with every person, in every place, in every situation, and ultimately draw all people to himself.


About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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