Ascension of the Lord May 28, 2017
Acts 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1, 17-23 + Matthew 28, 16-20
Aboard the MS Maasdam
Jesus is the great boundary crosser. First, from the Father to a birth in Bethlehem. Then through his entire life he crossed every boundary humans had ever erected by touching the sick and unclean, by passing through Samaria and there talking with a woman, and finally by crossing the greatest divide from death to life returning from the realm of death with freedom and authority to tell us to do what he has done. All nations are to be included in the Kingdom we proclaim. There will be no exclusions; no boundaries of race, gender, or ethnicity are to be obstruct the plan of the Father for all God’s children to be one.
Matthew takes us to Galilee today not because of its geographical location, but first of all because it was the place where his mission began. The place where he first met and called those disciples. He calls them home to the place of their first enthusiastic response where their hopes first soared and fired their enthusiasm. He also takes them to Galilee because it was an unsophisticated and marginalized region. He takes them to that world of the less privileged as the starting place for their work.
What we celebrate today with this Feast of the Ascension is the fulfillment of a promise that Jesus makes to all his disciples. It is a promise intrinsic to the Easter mystery that only after they had stopped clinging to his physical presence, only after his Ascension, could the promise of the Father to send the Holy Spirit be fulfilled. The promise of the Father to us is more than a promise that Jesus would remain with them always. The promise is for that new advocate, that new birth of life that comes with the Holy Spirit.
So often when we are parting company we say to each other: “Keep in touch.” And so often we say, “I promise”, and then we don’t. Now comes the Ascension when Jesus leaves and says: “Keep in touch”, and with the coming of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate next weekend, we can and we do stay intimately and always “in touch” with Jesus.
The disciples needed to see Jesus ascending just as the old prophet Elisha was only able to inherit Elijah’s prophetic mantel after he had seen his master taken up into heaven. As long as Elijah stayed with Elisha; as long as Jesus remained with the disciples, they never would have taken up the work of the master. They would simply have been content to watch and let him do the work. He’s gone now, yet his Spirit is with us. At this altar we wrap ourselves, in a sense, in his mantel. We take up his mission looking for those who are lost or left behind and longing for the comfort of his presence. We stand in his place offering forgiveness, a welcome, compassion, understanding, and we feed the hungry never sending them away. Our desire is always the will of the Father. Matthew’s Gospel begins by naming Jesus as “Emmanuel”, “God is with us”. At the end, he repeats the promise: “I will be with you always.”