Ascension of our Lord
We and the disciples are stuck between a rock and a high place. Especially on Ascension it feels like we are stuck between a rock and a high place. When we witness and observe Jesus ascending into the highest heaven to be rightfully confirmed as the name above all names, the authority over all in heaven and on earth, we feel stuck between the rock of harsh reality and the high place of unrealistic hopeful expectation- stuck between where we are and where we wish we were.
When we are between a rock and high place as the disciples were, there is always a temptation to focus too much on one or the other. We may feel tempted to direct our attention toward the harsh reality of our world, the rock beneath our feet, and live without courageous hope toward the promised heavenly future. Or we may feel tempted to direct our attention toward the great heavenly promise of God without seeing the presence of God on the ground around us.
The disciples were in danger of focusing too much on holding onto the glory of our world and lacking the imagination to see the new ways Christ’s spirit could be bringing life to the church. Jesus ascended into heaven and before he did, he told the eleven disciples that they should wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. Then, they will be sent out and empowered to proclaim the Good News. The disciples were left with a bit of a puzzle. What do we do while we wait? So the eleven disciples decide to restore their numbers to twelve- not exactly the most innovative and exciting ministry opportunity… Before Judas had killed himself, there were twelve disciples and the remaining eleven figured that that was how things were supposed to be. The eleven cast lots (similar to throwing dice) until chance would have them induct Mathias into the exclusive club of the twelve disciples.
The disciples get it wrong here. The text shows the disciples’ biases and their lack of holy imagination. They could only imagine the ministry of Jesus being continued with twelve men as it had been during Jesus’ earthly ministry. But when Christ Ascended and his Holy Spirit shows up, something much greater than the disciples’ limited vision occurs. At the first Pentecost, not only the twelve disciples, but thousands of Jewish pilgrims receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered to share the Good News of Jesus. Some time later there is a second Pentecost, when many more Gentiles are added into the mix. Other leaders of the church are empowered throughout the book of Acts including Paul who is named as an Apostle (bringing the official number to thirteen, not the expected twelve) and including Dorcas/Tabitha who is a woman and also called a disciple (now muddying the waters of who is an “official” disciple or not).
We are often tempted to think like the eleven disciples. When we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to act in our lives and send us out to do the work of God, we often look to the past of how we have always done things and we are often not prepared for the wild and unexpected ways in which the Holy Spirit will direct the mission of the church. I have seen churches scramble to restore the numbers of their Sunday School because they have always had 4 classrooms of children, but the Holy Spirit inspires them to pursue an intergenerational learning model in which 80 year olds and 8 year olds are learning the stories of God together. I have seen churches try to build up a traditional food pantry only to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to start a food truck feeding and worship ministry. I have seen churches try to start an Easter community meal only to find themselves sent out to the local Home Depot to share in the Lord’s Supper with day laborers. As we wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and as we move forward into the vision to which God has called us, we will not be limited in mission to restoring the number of disciples from eleven to twelve. God’s Holy Spirit falls on many more people than that and her mission will be greater than we can imagine. Where and to whom will we be sent? Personally, I can’t wait to find out.
Resurrection of Our Lord
Happy Easter! Christ is risen! Alleluia! As we gather in celebration of the resurrection of Christ, we cannot help but encounter the beautiful truths of Christ’s victory over sin and death. We have been given the gift of life abundant and everlasting. We are assured that Christ is with us always. We encounter the truth that God’s love and life abides here among God’s people. We desire these things to be true. We embrace the idea of forgiveness, mercy, and life after death. At the same time, however, embracing the truth of the resurrection is difficult to do.
It is often easier to say “yes” to the resurrection of Jesus than it is to say “no” to the power of sin and death. We may have a difficult time honestly denying the seemingly absolute power of injustice, fear, and death. On Easter there is not only a winner, but also a loser. We may desire to affirm that Christ and his love and life is the winner of Easter morning, but we may feel less confident and even foolish to claim that injustice, fear, and death are the clear losers this Easter morning.
A group of women arrive at the tomb of Jesus on that first Easter morning. They find a perplexing sight. The stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty, and two radiant messengers announce that Christ has been raised from the dead. The women rush back to the Eleven remaining disciples of Jesus and they recount the incredible experience to them. The women go out on a limb and share their faith. They believe the words of those odd messengers and they conclude that the empty tomb can only mean that Jesus was physically dead for three days and then rose to life and walked out of that stone tomb.
But the Eleven do not believe the women. Sometimes that happens. You go out on a limb and share something special, vulnerable, and life-changing, but it is not believed. We read even more that the Eleven dismiss this as “an idle tale.” It would be accurate to say that the Eleven are confident that the women returning from the tomb are delusional and have lost all grips on reality.
Why do the Eleven dismiss this tale? Don’t they remember the words of Jesus and how he told them multiple times that things would go exactly like this? Jesus told them that he would be betrayed, handed over, imprisoned, crucified and killed, and after three days he would rise again. But even so, the Eleven dismiss the Gospel proclamation of the women as “an idle tale.” I can imagine the disciples going at least part of the way with the women. Maybe they are attracted to the idea of eternal life, resurrection, and the end of sin’s power, but when they stop to think about it further, the implications are too absurd for anyone to actually believe. If we were to believe the women’s story we could accept that Christ overcame death and the grave, but then we would have to believe that death is in fact, not the most sure and powerful force in the world. Death’s power is as constant and sure as gravity or the sun’s rising in the east. To affirm that death has been defeated in Christ’s resurrection is in essence to affirm that up is down and left is right.