The Gospel: Luke 24:44-53
Jesus said to his disciples, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Then he led them 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. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Today we are celebrating Ascension Day. The actual day was Thursday, but I was away at Clergy Conference, and for some reason, Thursday doesn't seem to be a popular day for folks to come to church.
So, the first thing we need to address this morning is what is Ascension Day. The Ascension, or Ascension Day, in our belief as Christians, commemorates the ascent of Jesus Christ into heaven on the 40th day after his Resurrection.
You may feel that there is something familiar about the events that happen in the scriptures for today in the Gospel. It may not seem, so long ago, that we celebrated the events recorded in Luke 9 of the Transfiguration. At that time Jesus went up on a mountain and the disciples who were with him witnessed his conversation with Moses and Elijah. In Luke 9 verse 28 just before he talks to Moses and Elijah they see "the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning." We are told that Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah about his Exodus. The disciples struggle to understand what is happening and then a cloud descends on the mountain top and out of the cloud comes the words: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
In the chapter, before all that happens, Jesus has been asking the disciples who they understood him to be and he is predicting his death and resurrection.
Peter makes his statement that Jesus is "the Christ the son of the living God." Jesus also takes quite a bit of time preparing his disciples for the role of the Messiah as the sacrificial lamb rather than the conquering hero that many people expected of the Messiah.
In the Gospel, we heard today, Jesus is meeting one of his many appearances after his resurrection. He has fulfilled all the predictions he made around the time leading up to and at the time of the Transfiguration.
Now, at the time of his Ascension, he is again preparing the Disciples, this time, to be his witnesses in the world without him present.
He says: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."
He then goes on to say:
"Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." "You are witnesses of these things."
So, it is almost as though the Transfiguration and the Ascension are bookends to all that happens at Easter. Jesus prepares and promises in the time leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection and he continues to do that in the days, and weeks that follow.
The major difference between the Transfiguration and the Ascension is that, at the end of this encounter, Jesus is "carried up into heaven" as they watch. Jesus leaves the disciples for the last time and returns before their eyes to his Heavenly Father.
There are some interesting and intriguing concepts and promises included in this passage from Luke. The way that Luke records this, it is as if he is interrupting the flow of the events, leading up to the Ascension, by implanting what Luke considers to be important clarifying statements in among Jesus' directives to the disciples.
"Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures"
"....see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Now, I don't want to read too much into the placement of these particular sentences of Scripture, but I will say that there seems to be a "conditional" nature about the way Luke sets all this up.
In a short nine-word sentence we are given a profound statement: "Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures." I don't know about you, but to me, it is almost as if Luke is, to use a scriptural metaphor, "hiding his light under a bushel" or in journalistic terms, it seems he is "burying the lead."
Luke tells us Jesus "opens their minds to understand Scripture" and then Luke moves right along with the story and doesn't highlight or emphasize this amazing piece of news. So, I want to suggest this is where the conditional part of the nature of this event is involved. What do I mean by "conditional?"
Well, have you ever seen one of those offers on TV, or maybe in a grocery catalog, which offers so many percent off of the price of something you would really like to have? You get excited and decide you want to purchase that item. You anticipate what it will be like to own "one of those." Only to find out that the savings only come if you are prepared to go through the process of a "mail-in rebate." You don't get your discount there and then. You have to mail the coupon in and wait for the discount or refund to be mailed back to you.
Jesus does open the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures, but they must wait in Jerusalem for "what the Father promised them." They must wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new and powerful manifestation - Pentecost. The events of Pentecost are the fulfillment of conditions Jesus has laid out for the disciples to understand the scriptures in ways that they have never been able o before.
Luke shows us, in the events of chapter 9, and in this short passage, how Jesus prepares and promises.
It is no wonder that Luke rounds up chapter 24 by saying in verses 52 and 53: "And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God."
I want to conclude this morning by repeating words I used in my Musings in the Weekly Update two weeks ago: "As we seek to live our lives for Christ, here and now, we need to lean into the words Jesus shared with his disciples. We need to appropriate them for ourselves."
How is Jesus preparing us and what promises are we waiting for and needing to be fulfilled as we seek the Holy Spirit's indwelling in our lives?
Perhaps we can pray the Collect for today:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike