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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

In Christ's Ascension

As we recognize Jesus’s ascension today - 40 days from recalling his resurrection - I’m once again profoundly struck by the fact that Jesus is the very fulfilment of God’s promises to all people to reconcile them to himself. Jesus says, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

God’s promise took shape through his encounters with the Israelites and Gentiles we find recorded in the OT Scriptures. So it stretches all the way back to the Garden of Eden and God’s creation of all people, to Abraham and his promise that through him, many nations would be reconciled, and of course to the Gentiles who we see throughout the disciple’s ministries, as we heard last week with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who asks for baptism, all the way through to us sitting in the pews today. 

And the Ascension completes this promise: Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father to reign over all things. That is, Jesus returns to the Father. But that return includes his faithful response to God as a man, and so it includes the fruits of his faithfulness: the return of every man and woman who so desires it, to God, the Father. The reconciliation is sealed in his act and set out for all the world to see when we’re baptised and when we participate in the Eucharist, receiving God’s grace and responding to it in the sure promise of hope given credibility by Christ’s own life, death, resurrection and now ascension.   

What I find so profound, the older I get, is that God could bring this promise to completion in the midst of a world that seems to always be spinning out of control under human governance and order. I mean, think about it just for a moment: we can’t even manage to get road or construction projects done on time or on budget; we can’t provide affordable housing in a country that has everything; we can’t seem to establish peace across countries or even within our own country. We can’t even agree on what peace might look like. I find it utterly profound therefore, that anyone at all, could design and fulfil a plan, working through utter human brokenness, to fundamentally change the world. 

Let’s get this straight: Jesus isn’t merely a prophet or teacher who tells us how to be better or what to do to make things right. Jesus made things right by being faithful to God and being willing to suffer the inevitable consequences in a world that hated God, in a world filled with people who still, to this day, constantly substitute their own desires and idols for God’s own. I find it hard enough to persist in relationships with people who I don’t share values with, let alone persisting with an entire world filled with people willing to put me to death to appease their own desires! And yet Jesus affirms to me that this is precisely what he did. 

His death at my own, and your own hands, followed by his resurrection, is the persistent faith that opens the way to God for you and I. Repent therefore, and receive the unearned grace of Jesus’s act. If you don’t find that powerful, think for a moment about how you feel when you wrong someone and could be held accountable in a serious way and yet are forgiven or granted mercy that you couldn’t have repaid. That sense of relief, maybe even awe that the person was gracious enough to forgive; that’s a powerful motivator to change your behaviour not out of guilt, but actually out of thanks for an opportunity to choose to be the kind of person that you would like to be: a person whose purpose and choice in how they act is intimately tied up with other people. 

And this is important for God’s people because of what Jesus says next: “You are witnesses of these things.” That is, like the disciples, we are witnesses, who, like our OT and NT scriptures, are called to point beyond ourselves to the one who transforms our lives by his mercy: Jesus. If we are called to be witnesses to the one who gave up his life for his friends and enemies alike, then you and I really are instruments that allow God to act through us. For God to act through us and make us powerful witnesses, first, we have to be willing to receive him into our hearts and minds so we can be made, by his Holy Spirit into Jesus’s own likeness. 

This requires repentance, as our Gospel puts it. That is, it requires us to first let go of thinking and acting as if we are fully aware and can control how and when God will act. When Jesus says to the disciples in Acts, “you do not know the times or periods that God will restore the kingdom of Israel.” Jesus isn’t just talking here about restoring the kingdom of Israel. Rather Jesus is letting us know that God will act because he alone knows the times and the ways he will fulfil all things as 1 Corinthians 28 says. So it follows that only when we are willing to let go and act on the basis of our trust and faith in God, persisting in or taking on the things God gives us to do, or giving up the ways that lead us and others away from God, can we be filled up with the power of the Holy Spirit. And only in that power can we be witnesses to who God truly is. AMEN  


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