SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from your tree of life. Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.” John 14:28-29.
The Feast of the Ascension is, alas, one of those unmovable observances, meaning that, unless it falls on a Sunday, it gets lost somewhere during the last couple of weeks of Easter. That is a shame. The ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God the Father is a central feature of our creeds and crucial part of the gospel narrative. This event establishes Jesus’ faithful life, obedient death and glorious resurrection as a truly cosmic event. This Jesus is shown to be that word “upholding the universe.” Hebrews 1:3. He is the one “for whom and by whom all things exist.” Hebrews 2:10. “In him,” says Saint Paul, “all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17. Through Jesus God works “to reconcile to himself all things.” Colossians 1:19-20. As the words of a recent hymn proclaim, “Christ is alive, no longer bound to distant years in Palestine; but saving, healing here and now, and touching every place and time.” “Christ is Alive! Let Christians Sing,” Brian A. Wren (pub. by Hope Publishing Co. c. 1975) Hymn # 389 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c. 2006 by Augsburg Fortress Publishers). Jesus, we must be clear, is not anybody’s “personal savior.” He is the savior of the world. The church is not the privileged and exclusive owner of salvation. It is the people entrusted with announcing it and testifying to it.
This word comes at a time when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. The brutal mass killing this week in Buffalo, New York has exposed once again the ugly face of white supremacy that is now the dominant unifying principle in one of our two major political parties. We find ourselves teetering on the brink of world war between nuclear powers. Our best scientists world-wide are warning us that we are on a trajectory of ecological ruin. Against this grim backdrop of disintegration, the ascension narrative reminds us that the world, indeed, the universe is held to together by God’s Incarnate Word. The nail pierced arms of Jesus hold God’s beloved world together against all the forces threatening to tear it apart. Whatever evil we might do-and we can do plenty-we cannot break God’s loving embrace of all God has made.
Our lesson from Revelation rounds out the Ascension witness in its graphic visual imagery of the consummation of the age. The world spoken into existence by God’s word “Let there be…” continues by the Spirit’s animation and is guided by God the Father’s providential grace toward the eternal embrace of Trinitarian love.
To say that Jesus is at God’s right hand is to say that Jesus is now everywhere. He is not gone, but more intensely present than ever before. Whatever God does is done in and through Jesus. That is to say, we can no longer speak of God apart from God’s Son or speak of God’s acts apart from reference to Jesus. For disciples of Jesus, every effort to understand God prior to, after or without Jesus ends in idolatry. That is why, when a disciple of Jesus picks up the Bible, the disciple reads every word through the lens of Jesus, allowing nothing “to draw our eyes away from him.”
Here’s a poem by Joyce Hernandez speaking to the narrative of the Ascension.
When Jesus early rose and breathed
The pungent air of new-dug earth,
Passed the stone, and passed the flesh,
Passed the mourners of his death,
(and left them dazed, but following)
He rose with such a limpid flight
As wind or wings could only clutter,
And left no scratches on the world,
No broken twig or parted cloud,
To draw our eyes away from him.
(c. 1972 by Joyce Hernandez) Joyce Hernandez is a teacher, nurse and poet living in Yakima, Washington. Her publications include The Bone Woman Poems (c. 2009, pub. by Allied Arts and Minuteman Press). She is also, coincidentally, my sister.