I want us to take a few moments this morning to reflect on what God has done in our lives.
In the back of each of the pews, there are little notepads and there are pencils and pens. Or you can take some of the space in your bulletin where it says “I praise God because…” As we think about what God has done in our individual lives, I want to encourage you to jot down some notes.
Take a deep breath and pay attention to your life.
Where has the power of creation and creativity been present?
Where have you experienced healing or forgiveness?
When were love and joy given to you?
What about grace and peace?
Forty days after Jesus rose from the grave and conquered death, he led the disciples out to the countryside to the little town of Bethany. And he reminded them of everything he had done.
Jesus reminded them of how he healed and forgave.
He reminded them of his words and truth.
He connected the dots for them and helped them to understand his suffering and death.
And then he said five simple words: “you will be my witnesses.”
He blessed them.
And he left them.
On that day, forty days after Easter, Jesus was taken up into heaven.
And the disciples worshiped him, were filled with joy, and continuously praised God.
One of the questions I always have wrestled with is WHY the ascension is such good news. Why is this moment so important?
Wouldn’t it be so much better if Jesus had stayed here on earth with us? Teaching and preaching? Leading us? Showing us how to live?
The disciples, who had been so scared and timid in the days after his death are suddenly celebrating his leaving.
In their commentary on this text, the General Board of Discipleship reminded us that heaven is not really “up.” As we know from our modern scientific inquiry – and I quote from the GBOD: “If Jesus went ‘up there,’ he would have frozen to death, suffocated, been dangerously irradiated, or ripped to shreds by black holes (if he got that far!).”
No, this language of going up… of ascension… is really the “language of enthronement.”
In the ascension of Jesus, he rises not simply from the grave, but up to his full authority.
He no longer walks and talks among us but he is now “seated at the right hand of the Father.”
He is no longer the prophetic carpenter from Galilee, but he has risen to his fullest stature as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The ascension is the completion of the resurrection.
And that is a good and holy and awesome thing.
But there is something else to the ascension that we often miss.
In the incarnation of Jesus, we celebrate the word of God was made flesh. We witness how God came down and was born as a tiny babe in Bethlehem.
Every aspect of our human life was experienced by God.
Love and loss.
Stubbed toes and broken promises.
Laughter and tears.
Disappointment and overwhelming joy.
Fear and grief.
Jesus experienced the fullness of our lives – and the ultimate depths of suffering and death.
God entered our humanity in the birth of Jesus… that little child who was fully divine.
And when Jesus Christ – a man of flesh and blood, a fully human being who ate and drank and lived and died – when Christ is taken up into heaven, all of humanity is taken up to God also.
These two moments: the incarnation and the ascension unite the human and the divine. They establish an unbreakable relationship.
The reason that we can “go up” and experience the fullness of life in the divine presence is because Jesus is already there. He has shown the way.
The majestic and awesome Lord and King knows us and in spite of that, loves us and died for us and has made space for us.
For that… we praise and thank God.
So with the psalmist, we clap our hands in joy! For God is king of the whole world. God has gone up with a joyous shout! Sing praises!
This holy and awesome God intimately knows our lives. Jesus has not left us… he has united us with the divine.
You will be my witnesses.
You are going to tell my story.
Jesus unites humanity with God and empowers us to carry on the work of love and grace and transformation in the world. “You will be furnished with heavenly power,” he says as he is carried up into heaven.
We don’t have to share this good news in order to earn our place with God… it is something we do out of deep gratitude for what we have already been given.
Think about that list you made.
Of the ways God has worked in your life.
You didn’t have to do anything to earn that love and grace and forgiveness. It was freely given to you out of love.
And out of gratitude and thanksgiving, you are invited to tell the world.
Go, be my witnesses, Jesus says. Tell the world about what I have done. Love them because I love them. Share my kingdom with them!
One of my favorite blogs is rev-o-lution and the author tells about a sign she saw once in England. It reads: “We believe in life before death.”
We can get so caught up in life after death, in what happens up there with Jesus and whether or not we are going up there, that we forget about this life.
Jesus invites us to live before we die.
He invites us to go and share and tell and bless and love.
He invites us to not only live, but to share new life with the broken and hurting of this world.
As Rev. Mindi writes on her blog: “This is why we work for justice and peace in this world. This is why we stand against hate and stand for love.”
We do not work for the Kingdom of God in order to get up there, but because that Kingdom has already come down here and already dwells in our hearts. And in Jesus’ ascension, we have been given keys to the Kingdom.
Because he has gone up, we can get down and dirty and engage people in the real mess of their lives.
Because he has gone up, we can stop worrying about whether or not we are saved and we can simply tell people about Jesus and invite them to get to know him and us better.
Because he has gone up, we can stop counting dollars and cents and we can start measuring how deep our conversations are, how real our expressions of love are, and how many people we have shared the story with.
Because “up there” there is really not “UP” at all… all of humanity has been given the opportunity to live life right now in the presence and the power of the divine.
And for that we give thanks.
And we can’t wait to start telling the story.