Ascension Sunday Homily
June 2, 2019
It was about this time of year. Sue & I were living in Cuba City where I was pastor of a Lutheran church and Sue was attending seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was trying to finish a sermon. My church office looked out on to the parsonage garage. The parsonage was close to the church… 8 feet to be exact. I was frustrated because the sermon wasn’t coming together. The Spirit seemed absent. She must have been over at St. Rose of Lima Church working with Father Graham! So sitting there feeling uninspired, I knew I needed to accomplish something worthwhile that afternoon. So I decided to change the oil in our car…a 1972 Subaru station wagon . It was orange. It matched the orange and brown carpet in our living room. Orange was a popular color in those days.
I changed clothes, went to the garage, turned on the radio…it was about time for Prairie Home Companion, got the wrench & oil pan and slid under the car. After draining the oil, I tried to get the old oil filter off. It was in an awkward place. It wouldn’t budge. I tried with my right hand and my left hand and then made a desperate attempt with both hands…… That’s when I heard it! There was this beautiful music coming from the radio. I think it was Robin and Linda Williams singing this wonderful song. They were singing: ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ I paused and listened, lying in the darkness of that garage on that cold concrete, filled with the joy of those beautiful words of Julian, of that lovely music. Invigorated, I tried to loosen the filter again and it came loose! All shall be well again.
In the struggle of trying to understand the meaning of Jesus’ ascension, those mystical words of Julian are truly a comfort. Surely they summarize the culmination of that time between Christ’s resurrection and ascension for those disciples. Can you imagine the challenge and disorienting time for those disciples? The gospels tell those stories…Jesus appears in the room with the doors closed, shows up on the road to Emmaus and they didn’t recognize him, he served as a fishing guide where they didn’t recognize him until he ate fish and broke bread with them. If any one of those disciples would have kept a journal, I’m sure they would have indicated somehow the very human challenge of trying to wrap their heads around what was happening!! That’s why the assurances found in that last sentence of Luke’s gospel are so important: And they worshiped Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. It ended well…all shall be well.
There is profound mystery in the ascension of Christ that goes beyond the literal, physical act of Jesus disappearing into the clouds. Luke gives a very down-to-earth depiction of the two figures dressed in white…they were probably the same two figures in dazzling clothes who surprised the women at the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week. Their questions were of the same ilk. They asked the women: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ What? And true to form, they asked the disciples: ‘Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? What? Hadn’t they been paying attention!
These Luke/Acts stories of Jesus ascending into heaven are interesting reading yet very challenging. It’s not helpful to focus on the physical mechanics of the Ascension … did Jesus pass through the troposphere to the stratosphere to the mesosphere to the thermosphere to the exosphere…into outer-space through the billions and billions of stars into heaven? The how of the Ascension is going to remain truly a mystery.
It’s much better for us to focus on the effect of Jesus’ Ascension! Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures…opened their minds to understand the Godly mystery contained in the meaning of the scriptures; made them witnesses to the love of God, and empowered them with the Spirit who inspired and empowered them. Jesus’ Ascension is a great day that marks the beginning of the final days of Easter. Next Sunday, the 50th day of Easter is Pentecost when the fire of the spirit is breathed into the hearts and lives of the disciples.
And so when Jesus leaves his disciples…..they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple praising God.’ They ‘returned to Jerusalem with great joy.’ These were no longer men and women imprisoned by their fear. The transformation that Jesus wanted in their hearts and minds was that now they were willing to be that good news to others. They had a conviction in God’s power over all things. They knew that whatever came there way, all would be well.
May we rejoice this day as we remember the transforming journey that the disciples had undertaken in the days after the resurrection. We are here because we too are caught up in the resurrection life. We believe that despite all the trials and challenges of this life, that all will be well. May we remember, especially if we have any of those dark days when it feels like we are laid out on the cold concrete despair wondering about our purpose, stuck in a bad place, may we remember that we are empowered by God to witness to the love and grace of the resurrected and ascended Christ. May we commit ourselves to live as people not limited by the challenges and frustrations of life but as a people transformed by Our Christ who is risen, ascended and glorified.