Ascension ... Prepare for Take Off
Today we gather and celebrate a most sacred day ... Mother’s Day! I am well aware that Mother’s Day is not actually a Church holy day. Given the patience, grace, and love involved in motherhood, perhaps it should be. Two mothers of teenage girls were chatting. One says, “My daughter doesn’t tell me anything. I’m a nervous wreck!” The other mother says, “My daughter tells me everything, and I’m a nervous wreck!”
Mother’s offer a selfless love, often without reward, and frequently testing their dignity and humility. One mother was having a hectic day. Her small son, who had been playing outside, came in with his pants torn. She ordered, “You go right inside, remove those pants, and start mending them yourself.” Some time later, she went inside to see how he was getting along. The torn pants were lying across the chair, and the door to the cellar, usually kept closed, was standing wide open. She called down the stairs loudly and sternly, “Are you running around down there without your pants on?” “No, Ma’am”, was the deep voiced reply, “I’m just down here reading your gas meter.”
Mom’s endure a lot, and sacrifice much for their children. God is often referred to in the masculine, as Father. But today, we should remember the many feminine references of God’s love and care, like a mother hen caring for her brood, and the divine guidance of Lady Wisdom. Mother’s certainly deserve more than one day’s recognition. Often when placed in the public eye, on camera, stage, or podium, people recognize their mother. Please indulge me this shout out ... “Hi Mom!”
There is another day we recognize today, that is certainly in the “Top 5” of holy days. It is the Ascension. In our recounting of the sweeping movement of salvation, we often talk about the Incarnation, and Jesus’ death and resurrection, but we do not typically add Ascension. It is simply not a holy day all Christians mark on their calendar. We do not refer to our occasional attenders as Christmas, Easter, and Ascension Christians. Families do not typically gather for Ascension Eve dinner.
Yet the Ascension is not forgotten in our regular worship. In our Eucharistic prayers, we remember and give thanks and praise for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. The ascension of Jesus’ humanity to rejoin God’s Divinity creates a path for disciples of Christ to follow. He prepares a place for us ... "that where he is, there we might also be." It is because of the Ascension that we join our voices with all the company of heaven, forever singing and proclaiming "Heaven AND earth are full of God's glory."
In John’s gospel today, Jesus prays for his disciples and all of humanity, summarizes all that has happened, and the gift they are about to receive. Humanity is God’s and has been given to Jesus. Because Jesus bears the divine name “I am” he has revealed God to us. Jesus shares a glimpse of divinity with God’s people. “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” Jesus states we “do not belong to the world.” The path and influence of God in our lives often places us at odds with the world. This does not mean at odds with creation, but the human world that rejected God and the one God sent. Jesus’ words also proclaim we are on a different path than the world. We walk the trail that Christ has blazed for us, for humanity to be fully reconciled with divinity, to join Jesus in his humanity as he ascends to God.
Author and theologian George Body describes the Ascension as a crisis of the worship of God both in Heaven and on earth. In heaven, "Until that mysterious morning when Jesus in His assumed humanity passed within the veil and took His place within the true Holy of Holies, the great hymn of Christendom had never rung through the courts of heaven; but when the thronging Angels watched the the ascent of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus, the 'Angus Dei', and saw its mysterious flight cease only when it was enthroned on the Right Hand of the Eternal, a new light flashed across their intellects, a new adoration filled their spirits, a new song burst from their lips, a new worship was begun, the worship of Jesus Christ. 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!' And so it was on earth, 'They worshiped
Him.' "His very withdrawal from them, His very elevation to the Throne of God, was the development of new relations between the disciples and their Lord. As long as he was on earth the worship of him was not the principal feature of their life; but as soon as He was withdrawn from them and seated at God's Right Hand in the heavenly places ... the adoration of the Lamb, the worship of Jesus Incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, enthroned ... the distinctive worship of the Christian Church began to be." A new aspect of Eucharist as Christ ordained was revealed. The glorious center of earthly worship where heaven and earth are joined and Jesus Christ is ever adored.
We can only imagine the disciples mixed emotions, as they rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection, then watch as he is bodily taken into heaven, away from them again. There must have been a great realization that this time, they are truly on their own, charged with becoming and being the Church. But they were not left alone. The gospel promises Christ is with us always. This time is not a period of Christ’s absence, but a new season of Christ’s constant presence in a wonderful, amazing, and unimaginable way. We will celebrate and get an even greater sense of this next Sunday at Pentecost.
Jesus comes to bring the active, redeeming presence of God into our human situation, and to light the path that brings us constantly closer to God. We are called to bear witness to that. Jesus does this because he is one with the Father. We can only do our witnessing job if we are one with Jesus. We cannot be one with Jesus if we are clearly at odds with one another. Those who accept Jesus know that we are in the direct, active presence of the will of God. Where Jesus is, there the purpose of God is being fulfilled. This is where we strive and long to be. Life in the Spirit make us one as Jesus and the Father are one. Thus we are consecrated to God, to be sent into the world, though we are not of this world. And we are sent in to the world with a mission, to point to and continue God’s saving work, to reconcile all humanity with God and each other, through Jesus Christ. We lay down our life in the world and pick it up again to follow the path Jesus has shown us, and invite others to true life.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ paved the way for humanity to join divinity eternally. The Triune God is active, reaching out to creation in love and bringing humanity into fellowship. Humanity ascending to heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit to humanity. These are inextricably tied to the sweeping movement of salvation. The Ascension reveals to us the larger story of God's loving action, and reminds us that God is up to such radical grace and love. Our lives are caught up in something far more grand than we can imagine.
Our response is to follow the path Jesus sets before us. As disciples of Christ, we are to follow the path of Jesus to God, loving and helping others along the journey. We must not reduce the Kingdom of God to a spiritual realm that has no relevance in our physical reality. In the words of our diocesan purpose statement, “We challenge ourselves and the world to love like Jesus, as we worship joyfully, serve compassionately, and grow spiritually. Jesus has blazed the trail, illuminated the path, and bids us follow, so that “where he is, we might also be.” From Anglican poet John Mason Neale: "O that shame, now ended in that glory! Pain untold, now lost in joy unknown! Tell it out with praise, the whole glad story, Human nature at the Father's Throne!" Amen.