The Ascension of our Lord falls on the 40th day after Jesus’ resurrection. During those 40 days Jesus established eye witnesses who would pass on to future generations proof of his rising from the dead. We don’t hear of any parables or miracles performed by Jesus during those 40 days. They were the purpose of the 3 years of teaching before he was crucified for our sins.
The Ascension is an important event in the mission of Jesus – so important that in parts of Europe it is designated as a Public Holiday. The Ascension is the fulfilment of Jesus mission as he ascends into heaven to the right hand of God to govern the world until he returns to bring about the New Heaven and Earth – as the angels told the disciples who watched him ascend: “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
But one of the casualties of our busyness is that very few churches have church services on Ascension Thursday and hold that celebration until the Sunday. But the Ascension is core to our understanding of what is going on in the world and essential in helping us to navigate through life with all the challenges that face us.
Throughout this pandemic and through other worldwide events and our own personal challenges it is easy to conclude that God is not in control. An in times of personal challenges our response in those times is to take human action first and then pray.
Human response is important – whether it’s responding through Covid safe practices during this pandemic – or by reducing emission in time of Climate Change. Just as our human response in our personal situations is to see a doctor when we’re not feeling well. But, as Christians, we come to these situations first and foremost with faith. Faith that God is aware of our situation and that God is in control.
And one of the other casualties of Ascension moving from Thursday to Sunday is we miss a vital piece in the puzzle of our Easter Season by ignoring the 7th Sunday of Easter and what St John says. So we don’t miss out on this important Gospel let us hear it now:
Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
First of all, look how John begins – “Jesus prayed for his disciples”. Have you ever considered that Jesus is praying for you? Our prayer life might not be all that crash hot at times – we don’t find time – we don’t know what to pray – we just can’t be bothered or forget to. But that’s not the case with Jesus. Jesus is praying for you. He never forgets – never neglects – is never too busy to pray for you
In fact St Paul says the same in Romans: The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for.
Have you ever had someone come up to you and tell you that they’ve been praying for you? How did that make you feel? How does that then make you feel that Jesus himself is praying for you? Do you feel lost and helpless – then remember Jesus promise “I am with you always” and remember that he is praying for you.
And look at part of that prayer:
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me.”
We belong to Jesus. Do you ever feel lost and alone? Remember that you belong to Jesus. And because we belong to Jesus we are protected, as Jesus says in his prayer to the Father for us: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me.”
Jesus has been given the name that is above all names. And at the name of Jesus EVERY knee shall bow – and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Forget what the world looks like – we are under the protection and care of Jesus Christ. It may not look that way at times as the world looks out of control. It may not look that way as we see the church declining in numbers, authority and relevancy. But, again, Jesus says that this is because we belong to him and not the world:
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
Do we think the mission of the church is to make the world love us? No. Our mission is to remain in Christ and to draw others into that relationship. And remaining in Christ means remaining in the world and being the light of Christ in the world. And that’s how we draw others into a relationship with God, as Jesus said: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Ironically we don’t remain in Christ if we take ourselves out of the world which is what the angels said to the disciples who watched Jesus ascend. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” The angel told them to go into the world: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And that witness, Jesus said: that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem
We are sent into the world as eye witness of repentance and forgiveness that we have received from God. And the way we proclaim that is by living out repentance and forgiveness in our own lives:
In Jerusalem – which was their home town – forgiving one another in our homes .If we can’t forgive our loved ones in our family, how will we forgive others
In Judea – our extended home – in our churches. In our workplaces, among our neighbours.
In Samaria – the enemy of Israel – where we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
And to the ends of the world.
When Jesus ascended to Heaven it was to complete his authority as he said before he ascended: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me – go and Baptise. And that authority is given to the church – the body of Christ through Word and Sacrament
But it’s a different authority to worldly authority that is shown through physical strength. It is authority shown through love and forgiveness through what Jesus called the office of the keys when he said to Peter: I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
If the gates of hell cannot overcome us then what chances does the world have against us when we are in Christ?
And that transfer of authority to the church comes through his ascension as Paul said today: “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, 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. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”
Friends, do not underestimate the significance of the Ascension. Do not underestimate the power and authority of the church – but a power and authority that comes through love and forgiveness. Do not underestimate your power and authority as you exercise the office of the keys of heaven.
You are sent to be eye witnesses to the very forgiveness that you have received;
A forgiveness that has freed you from fear of anything that is happening in the world. It doesn’t mean we won’t experience these just as everyone does but we have comfort knowing that our eternity is secured by Jesus. Jesus said that in John’s gospel today: I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. So even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we fear no evil nor the evil one because Jesus is with us.
And Jesus is with us watching over us from the right hand of God praying for us and protecting us until we are safe in heaven with him
May that peace of God that surpasses our understanding keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.