Acts 1: 6-14; John 17: 1-11
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
We are all familiar with depictions of people coming and going.
Many will recall in the 1939 film,
“The Wizard of Oz,” how Glinda, the good witch,
descends upon Dorothy and the Munchkins in a bubble,
…and after delivering a message and
explaining the mystery of the ruby slippers,
departs in the same way.
And no one who has watched even one “Star Trek” episode
can have missed Captain Kirk or his crew
being beamed up by a transporter beam.
So, that is just like the Ascension, right?
The Ascension of Jesus is not a device
to get him back into heaven from whence he came.
The Ascension is an account of how Jesus,
having finished his work on earth,
blazes a trail over which we one day shall travel,
…a trail to eternal life that
continues our relationship with the risen Jesus
and God, our creator and redeemer.
While other religions have their divine ascension narratives,
with other worthy ones ascending with them,
Jesus departs alone,
…leaving his disciples behind,
staring into empty space,
as a cloud takes him out of their sight.
And why does that matter?
Because our work is not done on earth.
We learn more about that work
from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples – and us –
in the gospel reading for today:
“And now I am no longer in the world,
but they are in the world,
and I am coming to you.”
This farewell prayer is said,
not just for the small band of family and followers,
but also for each of us.
The good news here
is that Jesus prays openly for us,
for our protection and our unity so
that we might be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.
Jesus also tells us, shortly before his Ascension,
what eternal life means for us:
“that they may know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
The Ascension makes Jesus accessible to all people,
not just his disciples
in a particular historic moment.
He prays for all people,
and all may call upon him.
There is no limit to accessing him,
no request too small.
Recently a woman called her church office in distress
because her husband had just received a bad diagnosis.
She did not know what to do.
As she talked with her Priest, her voice became calmer
and she began to voice her fear about
what might happen.
Then she said, “Will the church pray for us?”
“Of course,” her Priest replied,
“and I am praying for you both right now.”
“I know,” she said. “I can feel it.”
The risen and ascended Lord entered into her time of need
with a calming presence
through her plea for help and her Priest’s prayer.
That is how a relationship with Jesus is supposed to work:
even when we cannot say the words
because of our grief or distress.
People are constantly learning how
the living Lord works on their behalf.
Jesus’ Ascension paves the way for this work,
and we are the beneficiaries of it.
In the Easter season,
we are continually drawn to stories about
Jesus’ pastoral care for us.
- He walks to Emmaus with the troubled disciples
who had hoped he would redeem Israel,
and then helps them see his risen life and
the power it holds for them
as they begin to share the Good News with others.
- He cooks breakfast for his friends on the shore of the lake,
and they know through this simple act of hospitality
how deeply he cares for them,
and we know how deeply he cares for all of us.
When was the last time you asked God for something?
When was the last time you knelt in a church or
in your living room and
asked Jesus for a specific need?
When was the last time you prayed for yourself
or a friend
to be healed?
For whom will you pray today?
For whom will you offer prayer this week?
These prayers are dialogues with Jesus,
and he wants us to speak to him.
He wants to give us good things,
the things we deeply desire and need to
lead lives of hope.
That is what he does for
the disciples in today’s gospel reading,
and that is what he will do for you.
Conversion and transformation
are the steps the risen one takes with us.
Few people have the dramatic experience recorded
by the apostle Paul on the Damascus road,
but many have moments
when life and their place in it
begin to come together.
That is the conversion experience,
when the pieces of the puzzle of life
begin to fit together.
The conversion leads to transformation,
a new life centered in the risen, ascended Lord.
It is no longer all about you or me.
Many of us have a favorite person
whom we admire for their ability
to go through a crisis or meet difficult challenges head on.
One young man I know
works for the Veteran’s Administration and
sees vets from many different wars.
He says the ones who teach him the most
are the ones who can articulate their faith,
the conviction that God loves them and cares for them,
…even with lost limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses.
“They are,” he says,
“the people who have found peace in the midst of strife.
They know Jesus and see him as their friend.”
Jesus does not come and go on a transporter beam.
His presence abides in the church and in a personal and unique
relationship with each of us.
That is what we celebrate in the Great Fifty Days of Easter.
Today, whether you are joyful about something or
sad and grieving over what might have been,
remember you are connected to the risen Christ,
through the community of faith and directly with him.
Pray for specific things you need.
Ask for the things he wants to give you,
and always remember it is his risen and ascended life
that makes him accessible.
He wants to walk with you.
The question is: Will you take his hand?