Ascension Sunday: "The Church Which Is His Body"
Today is Ascension Sunday or, if you prefer, the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
It's the day that we commemorate the moment Jesus departed from his disciples dramatically after hanging around with them for some time, showing up in weird places, and blowing their minds after the Resurrection.
Here's the passage in Acts that describes it:
"They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'" - Acts 1:10-11
This scripture depicting Jesus' departure from his disciples (what Christians commonly refer to as "The Ascension") is one of those passages in the Bible that makes you wonder: "What the heck is going on here?"
Is the writer of Acts really suggesting that Jesus drifted away like a balloon into the sky?
Or was Jesus' transition from our reality to God's reality something beyond the comprehension of those who witnessed it, that they could only describe it in ways they could understand?
And then it hit me. The point of this story wasn't in the details of Jesus' departure, nor was it in the mysterious appearance of the angelic beings.
Like most things in the Bible, we can get so caught up in explaining the unexplainable and affixing a definition to a mystery that we miss the point entirely.
To the first-century Christians who would have been reading this account, the point of this story was crystal clear: "Don't stand around with your mouth open, staring at the sky and waiting for Jesus to return. Get to work."
Or, to put it another way (using the oft-quoted phrase from Oliver Wendell Holmes): "Don't become so heavenly minded that you aren't any earthly good."
For those who desire to follow Jesus, it's often far too easy to spend our days discussing what it means to be a Christian without actually doing what Christians should be doing.
When we speak of eternal life, this is what we're talking about. The fact that Jesus took his rightful place in God's reality, all the while being present in this one---through you and me.
Because of this, we know that our eternal life begins now, right here in this reality, and also will be then--one day, in God's reality.
But while we are in this reality, we need to live like Resurrection people; we need to live as people who believe that because of Jesus, we can experience eternal life now, and we don't have to wait until we're dead.
Here's what I want us to hold on to today as we read from Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians:
THE WAY OF RENEWAL PASSES THROUGH THE DOORWAY OF ETERNAL LIFE -- eternal life that is ours both now and not yet.
This letter that Paul wrote is known as a "cyclical" letter, which meant that the letter's main body was copied and sent to multiple churches and that he added greetings and closing remarks for specific places.
1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,
1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So what is Paul trying to say here? He speaks first of all about the universal role of Christ in creation and redemption
The cosmic Christ, according to Paul, is the key to healing divisions.
The Church finds its purpose and meaning as the body of Christ.
We’re not gazing into the heavens—we’re looking around us.
The eternal life of Christ is the door through which all renewal must pass.
As Christians, we spend so much time trying to figure out the profound theological answers to the pressing problems of our day that we need to remember that Jesus, more often than not, intends for us to be the answers to those problems.
Mary Oliver's poem "What I Have Learned So Far" speaks directly to this and issues us with a challenge:
Can one be passionate about the just,
the ideal, the sublime and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don't think so...
The gospel of light is the crossroads of--indolence or action...
Be ignited or be gone.
If you feel your faith has been reduced to a sky-gazing, open-mouthed, and inactive exercise... If you wonder if there is more to following Jesus than just knowing the information... Then perhaps you are being stirred to live bigger.
May you be ignited by an active, trusting faith. May you live with passion and joy today, working to bring the peace of God to earth as it is in heaven.
THE WAY OF RENEWAL PASSES THROUGH THE DOOR OF ETERNAL LIFE