Dear Low’s Church Family,
While we may be experiencing the post-Easter “down” time in the church, May actually presents us with two significant days of the Christian calendar. The first occurs on Thursday, May 23, the Day of the Ascension of Our Lord. In the past this was such a significant day that it was treated like a Sunday. I recall my grandparents speaking disapprovingly of a neighbor sometime in the past who had been mowing hay on Ascension Day. While few congregations mark the day with worship, it is still fitting for Jesus’ followers to remember what the day is about. We find an account of the Ascension event in the first chapter of Acts:
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” Acts 1:6—11, New Living Translation
We find that the disciples are still expecting Jesus to establish some type of restored earthly “Kingdom of David”. Their vision is still restricted to a Messiah for Israel, and not inclusive of the gentiles too (notice the disciples ask Jesus about the restoration of “our kingdom”). Jesus commands them to wait until the Holy Spirit arrives, at which time they will be empowered to be witnesses to the risen and ascended Lord. Jesus doesn’t mention the disciples’ hopes for a new Israelite kingdom free from Rome, only telling his followers “the Father” alone sets “those dates and times”.
One thing we notice aside from the disciples’ yearning for a liberated Israel is their reluctance to see Jesus’ ascend to heaven. They look up as he (it appears surprisingly) is taken up before their eyes, and they can’t take their eyes off of Jesus until he disappears from view (much like people will continue to search the skies following a rocket launch after the spacecraft is out of sight). It takes the “two white-robed men” (we can assume they are angels) to encourage the disciples to move on—with the promise that the day would come when Jesus would return “in the same way you saw him go.”
Ascension Day, while much neglected, is a day full of hope. First, it contains the promise of Jesus’ return—the second advent (the first being Jesus’ birth). With this comes Jesus’ words dissuading us from attempting to know the mind of the Father by guessing (or “prophesying”) about the date of the Son’s return. Second, we have Jesus’ promise of “the Holy Spirit”, who will empower the Lord’s followers to witness to him—his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and of the forgiveness and new life found in him. Third, Jesus makes clear the gospel is to be shared to “the ends of the earth”—including us, the gentiles.
Ascension sets the stage for the next significant church festival in May—the Day of Pentecost:
1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Acts 2:1—4, New Living Translation
Rather than experiencing the post-Easter “blah’s”, we may want to rejoice that two important events of the church year, celebrated this May, mean so much for all Jesus’ followers, including us. In the Ascension Jesus goes to heaven, and as we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, “is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” The earthly Jesus could only be in one location at one moment in time. The ascended Jesus can be with all his followers, and can intercede with the Father for them (for us). At Pentecost, the promised “helper” and “comforter” was sent from heaven not only to empower us for witness but also to guide us into truth and give us God’s presence. The gifts of Ascension and Pentecost are truly worth our thanksgiving and praise, as well as our contemplation, because they are life-changing and live-giving.
God loves you and I do too, Pastor John Mark