Sunday, May 5, 2013

Preacher's Study - Ascension

Monday morning in the Preacher's Study

First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (AscensionYear C)
Todd Townshend

The celebration of Ascension Day comes ten days before the Day of Pentecost. As much as I respect Luke’s timeline, and the use we make of it in the Christian Calendar, I’d like to encourage the preacher and congregation to celebrate Ascension on the Sunday. It is an important day and, theologically speaking, it is essential for understanding both the presence and the absence of Jesus. It certainly gives us a promise.

It is the combination of Luke 24 and Acts 1 that most intrigues me (although Ephesians 1 is also a wonderful text for preaching*). In both passages, the evangelist emphasizes that Jesus is doing something as he departs - he is blessing them – and Jesus promises that he will return in the same way that he left. This may be a surprise for those who think of Jesus’ return as a fearful moment. Here the promise is one of blessing.

Much of “the world” wants to smack folks down and make them afraid. Sometimes out of cruelty, sometimes out of hurt.  Sometimes people push others down to exalt themselves. Many systems, institutions, and bureaucracies survive by drawing energy and dignity out of the people they are supposed to serve. There is plenty of pain in almost every news story, so when people gather to worship they need to hear good news – promise, gift, blessing. They need something, someone, to raise them up.

On Ascension (Sun)day, I want to hear that there is someone at the right hand of God who knows our names and understands our lives. I do not want to hear about how I am supposed to save myself, or save the world, or climb my own ladder to heaven. I want to live (luxuriate, even) in the hope that Jesus will come to us, exactly because we remain here waiting with God and for God. The angels said, “Why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). That is a promise. The one who will consummate history is a person who knows us. He promised to come to us. There is forgiveness with him. He returns with his wounds still visible. He “gets it”. Wait for him.

So what to do while we wait? It is not the over-busyness of production and consumption that we need, it is the busyness of waiting in hope, welcoming the animating, humanizing Spirit, watching the Gospel happen all around us, and celebrating everything God accomplishes in and through us. Waiting for, and working with, the Spirit of God. Remember Jesus saying, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses . . .” (Acts 1:8).

* [For a beautiful and creative example of what the preacher can do with Ephesians 1, see “He Who Fills All in All” in Home by Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor, Cowley, 1997.]

The Rev. Canon Todd Townshend, ThD, is Dean-designate of the Faculty of Theology, Huron University College, and editor of OPEN: Journal for Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission  

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