Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Ascension Day!

The readings for this Sunday are the end of Luke's first volume--Luke 24:44-52--and the beginning of Luke's second volume--Acts 1:1-11--with a little Ephesians (1:15-23) thrown in for good measure. You can read them here.

Happy Ascension Day!

Yep...that's right, if you didn't know it, today is a major day in the life of the post-Easter church! 40 days after Easter Sunday, and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday, comes Ascension Day. This day is ripe with theological and missional significance--it is the day Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father, taking his place of rightful authority over all creation (see Philippians 2:6-11 for a wonderful theological interpretation of this!). It is also the day Jesus commissioned and blessed his followers for the work they would carry on in his bodily absence. It was a day of looking back at what God had done, and of looking forward at what God was yet to do; a day of looking up to heaven and out to the ends of the earth. Falling where it does in the church calendar, however, often means that it falls right off of our radars, being as it always lands on a Thursday. Hold these realities together and, as Sean White put it in Feasting on the Word, we might find that "no other festival in the Christian year is more important and less emphasized than the ascension of the Lord."

So the question I pose today is, what meaning does the ascension hold for modern Christians? Is it a day worth emphasizing more than we do? What does it teach us about our God, our Christ, the Spirit we wait for, ourselves? How do we need to be reminded of Jesus' lordship and our callings on this holy day? What does ascension teach us not just about the world beyond this world--whatever world that was that Jesus' body ascended into--but, I think much more significantly, about this world we are in and its connection to something so much bigger than ourselves?

As you reflect on these texts and these questions and the many others that your celebration and contemplation of this day will undoubtedly bring about, I leave you with a prayer that our Wednesday night meditation group spent some time with last night which opened up my thinking about the ascension in some new ways. We talked about whether this is actually a prayer (written by Walter Brueggeman in his book Prayers for a Privileged People) or more of a theological reflection, but I would encourage you to take its words and try praying them as a prayer of confession. Even though we, as Baptists, do not offer the creed each week, we are familiar with this language of ascension, most likely, but only vaguely so--not personally. I think this has the power to be a prayer that might open us up to the power of this holy day we have long neglected as we gather around these texts on Sunday. Blessings upon us as we do so.

"Candidates for Newness"
by Walter Brueggeman

We live in the long stretch between
Easter and Pentecost, scarcely noticing.
We hear mention of the odd claim of ascension.
We easily recite the creed
"He ascended into heaven."
We bow before such quaint language and move on,
immune to ascent,
indifferent to enthronement,
unresponsive to new governance.

It is reported that behind the ascending son was
the majestic Father riding the clouds;
But we do not look up much;
we stay close to the ground, to business and
to busyness,
to management and control.

Our world of well-being has a very low
ceiling, but we do not mind the closeness
or notice the restrictiveness.
It will take at least a Pentecost wind to
break open our vision enough to imagine a new governance...

Until then, we stay jaded,
but for all that,
no less candidates for newness.


Jeremy said...

I have to confess that I'm one of those that isn't really that affected by Ascension itself, so the prayer you shared makes quite a bit of sense to me.

As such, Several phases stand out in relation to the very general, unengaged happiness of Ascension that is (in my experience at least) the modern American view: "unresponsive to new governance," "jaded," "candidates for newness."

When a new president of our country is elected, what do we do differently? When leadership at the state or county level changes, do we notice? Why not? Because we don't perceive the "change" in governance as new, perhaps. More of the same on the way, more likely (jaded, yes?), and nothing to get excited about. Certainly nothing to get excited about at the physical moment of the power shift (the oath of office).

Maybe I feel this way because the real shift happened long before I came around. I'm not sure what the Ascension of Jesus means to my daily life, really. Jesus was God's son from day one and didn't need to fly off to make it so.

"But we do not look up much;
we stay close to the ground, to business and
to busyness,
to management and control."

True, true. The smaller we "make" our world, or rather the more we blind ourselves to the enormity of it, the more comforting our control and perception becomes. And maybe the Ascension shatters a certain ceiling for some. But believe me, I'm in awe anyway of the whole situation, creation in general. So...I remain puzzled.

Stephen said...

I'm actually more focused in the meaning of the cloud. The cloud was the symbol of God's power and leading Presence at the Exodus. It is this cloud that Jesus is gathered in to.

If I play with that and the Exodus imagery, then Jesus (the 'new Moses') initiates the New Creation(the new Promised Land) by His triumph over death through His resurrection. At the 'edge' of this newness Jesus calls us to move into the New Creation by living out Jesus' example to the ends of the earth; bearing witness to this new way of life that Jesus initiated, the understanding of God's love that Jesus taught, and the relationship that He offers.

I think many folks get focused on the "will return" and miss the "what are you standing around for" part of the message of the angels. And I agree with what I think Jeremy was driving at; we're called for it to make a difference in our lives and relationships that the world is "under new management" that the New Creation has begun.