The Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus said to the eleven and those with them,] “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Electronic devices die, or at least that is how we describe what happens when their batteries have no power.
We connect them to chargers for a period of time in order for them to be able to function again. Charging is an ongoing process. However, many of us may not know that there is an optimum period of time that a device should charge in order to maximize the battery’s life expectancy. For a laptop, it is 24 hours and for most smart phones it is a minimum of 3 hours. You cannot simply pull your device from the box and start to use it. If you get a little eager and use it before it has been fully charged, you are negatively impacting it future ability to perform.
In other words, you will shorten the life expectancy of your battery if you do not allow the initial charge to be optimal. I think this analogy may be helpful for understanding the impact of Jesus’ ascension on the disciples.
Jesus instructs the disciples to stay in the city. Reading Jesus’ instruction to the disciples through our own experiences of sheltering in place sheds new light on the necessity of waiting. Now Jesus has been carried up into the heavens and the disciples are waiting “until you have been clothed with power from on high.” There is no indication in the text that they knew how long they would have to wait. It seems that the Holy Spirit could have descended on them at the same moment that Jesus was leaving, but instead they are sent back to Jerusalem to wait.
Waiting is rarely easy and it can be even more difficult to endure when you do not know when the end will be. The beginning of Acts provides a glimpse into what was happening. The writer describes the group as together and unified, 120 people who spent their time praying and waiting. This time of preparation equipped the disciples to go out and spread the gospel, enabling the church to grow.
While they were waiting, they questioned when would Israel be redeemed? And just as suddenly as Jesus leaves, the Spirit descends. The disciples may not have experienced this waiting time as a time of preparation. Perhaps this is only apparent in hindsight. Yet, this season of waiting seemed necessary. Much like we must wait to fully charge our devices, the disciples likewise had to wait to be clothed with power. If their initial “charge” had not been full, they would not have been able to operate at their optimal levels.
Eastertide is a journey to Pentecost. Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, he ascends into heaven. During this season we reflect upon his life, death, and resurrection. We remember that though he has gone to heaven, he does not leave us alone. Our eyes, minds, and hearts are once again opened in order to receive the Holy Spirit, our comforter and our guide.
There is no power without a season of preparation, without a period of waiting. May we be empowered to do the work of the Lord as we are reminded, that this promised gift of God’s presence will always be worth the wait.
Did Jesus truly rise into heaven as described here? Did Jesus physically rise from the dead at all? How is any of this physically possible?
You’ve heard the questions, seen the debates. We’ve become so obsessed with details of Jesus’ life, determining what is historically accurate and what is simply story metaphor. Groups like the Jesus Seminar, have been working to get to the root of such issues. Often at the heart of a lot of these debates is the story of Jesus rising into heaven. There are many difficult details to wrestle with on a historical/scientific level.
- For one, is heaven truly up above the clouds somewhere where Jesus was going? This makes sense in context of an early understanding of the world, where the heavens existed above the flattened dome structure that they believed to be the world.
- Another difficult detail is around the supernatural character of Jesus, which is extremely hard for us to relate to in our time and place.
Amidst these conversations, one thing we have without a doubt, is a story. As a person of faith, these stories, for me, are inspired by God and have a truth to them that can’t necessarily be explained scientifically or historically. Yet, they are truths in their meaning for my life, and for many others.
This particular story is Luke’s account of Jesus’ final interaction with his disciples. The disciples have had some time with their risen savior, yet the time had come for him to go. What is next? How will they carry on? Surely they were struck with fear and anxiety at what happens next, as the ending to Mark gospel expresses so vividly. Yet, the disciples move on from this event, back into their daily lives, daily blessing the Lord.
Those of us who have lost a parental figure, an inspirational boss, or a mentor can surely relate to the fear of losing someone significant. What do you do when the person you have been following moves on? How do you find the courage to move ahead, to carry their story on?
A good movie I saw a few years ago was called Big Fish. The story follows Will Bloom as he cares for his dying dad, Edward Bloom. Edward is known for his stories. In fact, it’s about all he does at his age, tell stories of his own life. Will has become estranged from his father simply because he can’t relate to him anymore, feeling frustrated by the lack of details and half-truths in his stories. Now, his father is dying and Will seems lost in trying to explain the legacy of his father, and what it means for his own life.
As Edward is on his deathbed one evening, he turns to his son William and asks him to tell the story of how he dies.
William is stressed, and is about to call the nurse to take care of him, before realizing that this is the end, and what his father needs is a conclusion to his story. So he begins to finish his father’s story for him, telling him about how he dies, and the beauty that surrounds the celebration of his life, as all his friends are there to see him go.
As William is telling the story, you witness a transformation, where he realizes the specifics of the story aren’t as important as the meaning.
Will had come to realize that his father told stories not because he was trying to hide details or make himself look more important than who he was, but rather because he knew that stories had greater meaning and depth. He realized that the proper response to the passing of his father was to continue the story, to express how much his father loved other people, and how they loved him in response. To express the love between he and his own father. At the very end of the movie, a few years later, Will’s own son is heard telling some of the stories that were told originally by his grandfather. Will had learned how to tell stories, how to express meaning, depth, and love, passing it on to his own family.
As Jesus left his disciples, Luke tells us that the disciples had learned to tell the story, back in their cities, in their temples, blessing God along the way. The rest of the Biblical witness points to the telling of stories, to the expression of Jesus’ love for all people.
So how shall we tell the story? What is important for us in the gospel, how does it shape us, how does it shape the world? When we can express this in word and action, we are telling the story of Christ, who blesses us along the way.