June 17, 2014

Even Before Pentecost: Seeking and Finding Meaning in the Ascension

Ascension Sunday has fallen into obscurity and neglect in many denominations. I’ve posted about this previously, but I am still saddened by the trend.

I am beginning to create a small, at-home worship ritual celebrating the Ascension and based on meditative readings of Acts chapter one and Revelation chapters one and twenty-two.

The Ascension is important because it answers an important question: what happened to Jesus after his resurrection?

The answer matters.

The passage from Acts explains many things. One of them is this: Jesus is a supernatural person who arrived in an extraordinary manner and left in an extraordinary manner. Jesus will return in the same, extraordinary manner in which he left.

Also, Jesus told his disciples to wait before rushing off into “the next great thing.” He told them some things were not for them to know at that moment. Jesus did, however, give them a glimpse of their futures.

Jesus told his disciples they would receive power after the promised Holy Spirit came upon them and into them. Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses locally and, eventually, out and into the ends of the earth.

What is interesting is that Jesus did not tell his disciples what they asked him to tell them. Isn’t this the same Jesus who once said “ask, seek, and knock?” He didn’t tell them what they asked, but he did tell them what they needed to know. In the deepest way, he answered the question the disciples didn’t have the insight to ask.

He told them they would do something larger and more expansive than they’d imagined.

The disciples wanted to know if Jesus was ready to liberate Israel from Roman control and restore the nation to its historical independence.

Jesus responded by telling the disciples they would receive power—as opposed to waiting for him to do something in the earth. They would be his witnesses to people who had never heard of him.

In response to the disciples’ questioning of what Jesus would do next, Jesus tells them what they would do next. Then he leaves. He left them to do something bigger than they’d expected. In fact, he left them to do something no one had ever done, something
no one was expecting, and something many people we not ready to accept.  He knew they needed supernatural empowerment.

I love this account of Jesus’ final “in person” words to his disciples because he reverses their question while at the same time telling them what they really wanted to know.

They wanted to know this: “what’s next”? That’s the question we often ask after a mountaintop experience.

Jesus’ answer to them—and to us—was, and is, this: 1) Wait to become empowered through God, and 2) After becoming empowered through God, think and act more expansively than you ever have!

Living as an authentic witness of God’s power and presence is the most important thing a Christian can do.

 As we leave the details of the time, the place, and the circumstance of our witnessing up to God, we are enabled and prepared to do more than we had imagined. Witnessing means showing and telling what we have experienced in a way to points directly to the goodness of God, not to our own skills, willpower, or abilities. That type of witnessing cannot be done apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading, guidance, and empowerment.

This is the promise and the meaning of the Ascension.

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