The words of Jesus in John 17 and the Ascension of Jesus recounted in Acts 1 offer us clear direction and perspective, and re-orientation amidst the difficulties of living with Covid 19, waiting to resume gathered worship, and meanwhile, missing friends, family, and wondering what's ahead. The days seem to run together. What day is it?? Many folk I’ve spoken with talk of a sense of disorientation. That sure resonates with me. I need— we need— reorientation. We need help. We need solid ground to stand on. This week's readings are a great place to start. Or start again.
The first reading from the book of Acts, describes Jesus Ascension.Right away, as we read of the 'ascension' of Jesus, we have a problem because we might think immediately of pictures, paintings or movies we've seen. Those artistic presentations Jesus ascension can be at best distracting and confusing. In fact they are very unhelpful as they miss the point.
The point in Jesus ascension is not the direction 'upwards' in space, but exaltation to his rightful place, his divine glory. The cloud into which Jesus is enveloped, and disappears from sight, can be thought of here, as it often is, as a sign of God's glory. The presence of God is often depicted as a cloud: on Mt Sinai, in the wilderness, on the mount of transfiguration, filling the temple.
Jesus ascension signifies his return to the glory he shares with the Father and the Spirit.
The event of Jesus ascension is pivotal: it is the moment of Jesus visible withdrawal. After his ascension his resurrection appearances stopped. A new era had begun. Jesus work will continue but in a different manner.
Jesus will continue his ministry now by the power of the Spirit through the apostles.
So the Ascension of Jesus is not to be dismissed as a vestige of a quaint pre-scientific world view which described a three tiered universe. It is a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus and it sets us on track for the continuing sharing the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ, accompanied and equipped by his Spirit.
This is the time for which Jesus prepared his disciples and prayed for them. And it is a time that stretches from then to now and beyond. Jesus words and his prayers for his disciples in the time that was to come includes us. This is what we read in the gospel reading in John 17
John 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message..."
That is us. Now. What a thought that is, that Jesus cast his thoughts into the future, and prayed for all of us even then, on the last night before he died.
Jesus prayer continues:
"...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Notice in verse 26 Jesus speaks of his continuing work, that he will continue to make the Father known. What we know of God is shown in Jesus. He is the one who shows us, explains to us the nature and the love of God. And that work of Jesus continues.
What are the implications of this for us today? It is to me such profound encouragement. Indeed more than encouragement: it offers a deep reorientation. For Jesus is at work today. He is making himself known today through those who carry his message of love. More than that, those who carry his love to the world, by the presence of His Spirit, through the power of his Spirit.
This work is our work today. We cannot gather like we're used to, at the moment, but Jesus work continues. Right where we are. Where-ever we are.
Not yet able to resume gathering means that we are needing, each one of us, to seek God's presence through our daily and weekly reading and prayer. It's hard. And often we are acutely aware of what we don't have. And frequently frightened by what may be ahead— unsettled, uncertain about how we're to manage living safely with the ongoing presence Covid 19.
But what do we have amidst these unfamiliar circumstances? We have the promise of God, the presence of God. Jesus work, his care for the world, his companionship, by his very own Spirit. We have this morning a powerful reminder that we are not forgotten. And we are not alone.
So let us attend deeply to the words and the work of Jesus, that we may indeed be bound to him, by his grace, and share his life, and his love in the midst of our current circumstances.
And may the Peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. And the blessing of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.