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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ascension Day

Jesus, a Jewish prophet and healer, was crucified and died. almost 2,00 years ago. The exact charges are disputed by historians, but the existing texts indicate that there were political and religious motivations. [The writings of the first Christians invite us to see deeper meaning to the event. The social political reasons are overshadowed by the interpretation of the cross- Jesus is the true paschal lamb drawing us into the true exodus, Jesus took on the curse, Jesus is a sin offering, Jesus is completing the covenant between God and His creation as the priest and sacrificial lamb, Jesus is the obedient New Man who is faithful to God even onto the shameful death on a cross.... Jesus, a man of the poor and downtrodden, was a populist figure. However, institutional authorities would prefer that peasants quietly work and refrain from sharing their input on Messiahs and Saviors. The local theologians determined Jesus to be a sham, a false prophet who misleads the people. Temple priests were enraged that Jesus had challenged their authority and and the status quo which particularly benefited them. Lay holiness movements rejected Jesus' soft attitude toward sinners. Social Justice zealots felt betrayed by His refusal to condemn the Roman occupiers and His willingness to heal a Centurian's servant. The vast population were indifferent to Him, intrigued by His miracles and drawn by His authoritative teaching, they were too busy and too concerned with the demands of daily life to follow Him around.

Jesus, the Galilean prophet and healer, was crucified. Some Jewish leaders were willing to engage with Roman authorities in making this happen. There are reports that a group of Jews were supportive of it. Jesus was crucified with two others and we must remember that getting crucified by Rome was common. Many thousands died in this horrible way. His crucifixion was particularly brutal and His willingness to die this way was unusual. It appears He embraced it as a mission. We can assume that most victims did not forgive their torturers or cry out for God's mercy on behalf of their killers. We read that Jesus died rather quickly and was buried by distraught followers. The man who had healed the sick and raised the dead appeared helpless and powerless before the power of the world. He died a shameful death which seemed to negate all His claims about God and Himself.

A few days later, however, the tomb was found empty and he appeared alive in a new state. A review of the record found in St. Paul and the four Gospels, impress us that the remarkable claim is rooted in a multitude of experiences, but the details are sparse and what all took place is only hinted at. What we know, to quote Luke, is that Jesus made it very clear that He was not dead any more. The resurrection, however, is different in kind from the revived corpses of Lazarus, the young man, and the little girl. Jesus' body had new qualities. He appeared and disappeared. He ate and talk and you could touch Him and hold Him.

Luke says that for forty days Jesus came and went. Because forty is also a symbolic number it is hard to know exactly what Luke is communicating. The death of Jesus, associated with the Jewish feasts of Passover and the barley harvest, took place fifty days before Pentecost, the celebration of the wheat harvest and the feast day remembering the gift of the Torah to Israel. It all ties together and Jesus' promise that after He was gone He would send the Holy Spirit must be factored in.

Today we celebrate two things. One happy, Jesus is now the King of Kings, seated at God's right hand, the other sad, Jesus is gone.... I often say that today is the feast day which explains why things are the way they are--Jesus is gone, He is in heaven waiting to return. Right now, the Kingdom is near and grows among us, but it is growing like wheat in a field sown with weeds by the enemy. Light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate continue to co-exist side by side.

The Gospel of Ascension is Jesus is home with His Father. He invites us to rejoice that He is there. He invites us to care about Him and what this means for Him. Jesus is in a good place. But He is gone. Gone.... But like all Biblical truths, it is more complex than a simple declaration. Yes, He is gone, but Matthew reminds us that He promised to be with us always until the End of Time. Jesus has ascended but He remains with us. How is He here? In word and sacrament, through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is in the church, the church is His Body. This is why He sends us out. Go baptize. Go teach. Go tell them to obey. Go. Go. Go.

Jesus is gone but He is still here.
Jesus is gone but He will come back.
Jesus is gone, but we are sent in His Name, and He is still with us.
Let's do this, because that is what the Father wants...

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