Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
Luke is the only gospel writer who gives us stories of the ascension of Jesus, and Luke tells us about it in both the gospel of Luke and in the book of Acts. Luke gives us a physical description of the ascension. “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” In the book of Acts: Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” We are supposed to think of Elijah, taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Jesus’ physical ascension takes place at a particular place, in Jerusalem, in the temple. To write with specificity about Jesus’ ascent is intentional. Jesus’ ascension is physical. It is tied to the center of Christianity, Jerusalem, and to the center of worship, the temple. The gospel of Luke adds a divine element to the ascension: “two men in white robes,” angels (God’s messengers), are there. Jesus’ ascension is, we might say today, “a big deal.”
The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts remind us that Jerusalem is the starting point of Christianity. From here it spreads to “the whole world,” which probably meant, in those times, “to Rome.” Remember, from Jesus’ temptation? Seeing the whole world meant seeing the entire Roman empire. The apostles took Christianity beyond the area of Jerusalem. Paul’s voyages took Christianity to Asia Minor and to Europe. We know now that Christianity will spread to the entire world, to places known and unknown at the time of these early Christian writings. Christianity spread farther than Rome, of course, and farther than “the four corners of the earth.” Christianity has been expressed and celebrated as far away as the moon. Did you know that? Astronaut Buzz Aldrin took consecrated communion elements with him to the moon in 1969. Astronaut Aldrin ate the bread and drank the wine of our Lord Jesus Christ’s body in a spaceship sitting on the moon. And it started in Jerusalem.
Far-flung Christianity began at a time and in a place: Jerusalem, and even more specifically, in the temple. “They were continually in the temple praising God.” The temple is and was the Jewish place of worship, and in Jesus’ humanity he lived as a first century Jewish man. Jesus was presented in the temple as a child. Each year, Jesus’ parents made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, 80 miles from Nazareth, in accordance with the custom of the day for celebrating Passover. When Jesus was twelve, the gospel of Luke tells us, his parents leave Jerusalem and realize that Jesus is not with them. Jesus is missing for three days, and his parents find him at the temple, listening to and asking questions of the teachers (rabbis). Jesus already amazes the bystanders with “his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:47). Jesus is in the temple, which he expresses as his Father’s house: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
Christianity begins, in a sense, with Jesus in His Father’s house; after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Christianity begins in the temple in Jerusalem, with the rhythm of Jewish prayer, liturgy. The addition of the Eucharist takes place outside of the temple, in homes and in places where Christ followers gathered.
So this ascension of Jesus is a big deal; the ascension marks the “end of the time of Jesus” and “the beginning of ‘the time of the church.’” No longer will anyone see Jesus in his human body. No longer will Jesus show his disciples the holes in his hands and feet; or cook them breakfast; or walk with them along dusty roads, or teach them in the temple. He is with the Father.
The church must now proclaim Christ crucified and risen. In a very real way, we have become – and have been given the responsibility – to be Christ’s body. In one sense, then, we come to the Table and receive the body and blood of Christ in order that we might BE his body in the world. That is a huge responsibility and call on our lives. No longer is our teacher walking with us, but we are supposed to show others what life looks like in walking with Jesus. We are to tell the stories, live the messages, and proclaim the faith. We are now the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. And we can only bear a little bit of “Jesus-ness,” and it does not come from us. Anything that we do: talking, walking, teaching, healing, comes from God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus gives us a specific task, we disciples of the Way: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.”
Proclaimed is a rather active word. We do not proclaim the gospel by observing another person’s faith. We do not proclaim the gospel by watching faith “from the sidelines.” Our liturgy itself gives us the opportunity to be active participants in living out our faith. We begin our service by blessing one another. Think about our prayers: “The Lord be with you. And also with you.” Hear what happens in those few words. The priest is expressing the blessing of our Lord to the congregation, and the congregation, that’s you, offers a blessing back to the priest! We participate in prayers, spoken and silent, in the creeds, and in our bodies coming forward for the Body and Blood that we might go forth being The Body. Think about, pray about, our outstretched arms and hands, reaching for Jesus. (whew)
So, we are the church. We began from Jesus’ charge to us, in Jerusalem, in the temple, and now, “to the ends of the earth.” How, in this time and in this place, do you perceive that we are called to BE the church?
Pray about it. Think about it. Talk about it. Get enthusiastic, prayerful, tearful, joyful, energized, and in remembering last week’s message … on fire.
And then, you know what? Let’s do it. Let’s be the church in every way, giving worship, honor and praise to God.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.