Ascension of Our Lord
The story of Jesus wasn’t over and it isn’t over. The story of Jesus’ radical welcome, unconditional love, reconciliation, hope, salvation- in short, Good News- did not end when reason would have you believe that it should have ended. The story of Jesus did not end when he was crucified and died. The story of Jesus did not end even after he had defeated sin and death and was raised from the dead. Now we see Jesus taken up into heaven. His feet have left the earth and is hidden behind a cloud in the sky. You’d think that now would be a good time to end this story of Jesus, but no. The story of Jesus continues on.
The disciples have just heard Jesus tell them that he is going to be taken away. The disciples ask the resurrected Christ if the kingdom of Israel will now finally be restored. Can we get back to the good old days? We would love to see the Davidic monarchy restored and Rome to get their butts handed to them like they deserve. They have a limited view on what the Kingdom of God can look like, so Jesus tells them that he is going away and they will witness and participate in the building of this Kingdom soon. They are to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to descend on them and they will see what this Kingdom really looks like. Spoiler alert: it looks like people from all over the world finally understanding each other, it looks like men and women, slaves and free, rich and poor, Gentile and Jew, everybody and anybody being brought together to experience the unconditional and transforming love of God. It looks like peace and reconciliation between an occupying soldier and a poor Jew whose rabbi was just killed by an occupying soldier. It looks like a rich and sexually scarred man having a Bible study with one of the pillars of the early Christian church. It looks like love.
As Jesus is saying these things he rises up into heaven and the disciples are watching until they can’t see him anymore.
And they just stand there. I like to imagine that their eyes have a blank look to them. Their mouths are hanging open, catching flies. Maybe after a few minutes a little bit of drool starts to drip out of the side of their open mouths.
Then, two angels show up to snap the disciples out of their hypnosis. “Men of Galilee! Why do you stand there staring up at the sky? This Jesus is going to come back in the same way you saw him go up. You standing there watching the pot isn’t going to make it boil any faster.”
Jesus is coming back, but that doesn’t mean that the story of Jesus is put on halt until he does. The angels snap the disciples out of their hypnosis so they can be awake to the activity of God. The disciples are brought back to planet earth, so they can remember Jesus’ promise to them. The Holy Spirit is coming and they are going to see what this Kingdom of God really looks like. Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. If they stand around staring up at the sky, they are going to miss the incredible work of God that is happening all around them.
This Holy Spirit that the disciples are waiting for is a lot like Bill Murray. Bill Murray is a very funny and very famous actor, but he is infamous for showing up in unexpected and pretty common places.
In one story a 22-year-old woman in the tiny town of St. Andrews, Scotland, was at small bar and noticed that Bill Murray was sitting across from her. She introduced herself and then half-jokingly invited him to come to a party at a little apartment. To her surprise, he accepted and came to the party. The best part of this was that when Bill Murray arrived at the party he went into the kitchen and began to wash the dishes.
Erik and Ashley were recently engaged and decided to get professional engagement photos done. The couple went to Charleston, SC and had pictures done in all the classic poses: a close-up of the ring, holding hands, kissing, etc. Bill Murray shows up (patting his exposed belly making many a passerby laugh) and joins the couple for the photo shoot.
One of my favorite Bill-Murray-showing-up-out-of-nowhere stories takes place at a construction site. A group of construction workers were building a poetry library when Bill Murray walks onto the construction site with a hard hat on his head and a paper notebook in his hands. A crowd of burly construction workers gathered around Murray and he began to read some poetry. He read Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, and Emily Dickinson.
What is so cool and exciting about these Bill Murray sightings is how common the settings are. You might expect to see him on Hollywood Boulevard, at an Oscar awards ceremony, or the premier of a new movie. But you don’t expect to see him at a twenty-something’s house party, an engagement photo shoot, or a construction site. You might start to think, “If Billy Murray could show up at any of those places, he could show up anywhere!” What’s to stop Bill Murray from showing up at your place of work, your favorite restaurant, or this church? He could walk through those doors at any minute!
The Holy Spirit is kind of like Bill Murray in that way. The action of God’s Spirit is not up in the clouds in some heaven light years away, but it is right here among us. It is in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. It could be anywhere at anytime. The Holy Spirit that brings about power to proclaim and experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and new life can come to us anywhere at anytime. We might experience that love at a house party, an engagement photo shoot, or a construction site. Or we might experience the loving work of the Holy Spirit at the cubicle next to ours, in church, at the bus stop, at the dinner table, or who knows where else.
The Holy Spirit and the reconciliation, love, forgiveness, and new life that it carries with it- like Bill Murray- could show up anywhere at anytime. Thanks be to God!