Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ascension Sunday

June 5, 2011, by the Rev. Kate Ekrem

Ascension Day is kind of a funny little church festival, tucked away at the end of Easter and so close to Pentecost it often gets overlooked. Maybe we also think it’s funny because of the funny pictures it has inspired. There is a whole genre of Renaissance paintings of the disciples looking up in the air, confused looking, at some little white clouds with Jesus feet poking through. That’s all you see of Jesus, just his feet as he ascends into heaven. If that’s our image of Ascension Day no wonder it gets overlooked. But actually, what Ascension Day is about is pretty important.
After the resurrection, Jesus spends some time with his friends, and that must have been great time together. But then he left. No wonder they were staring at his fete. They must’ve been thinking, huh? Why are you leaving? What happens next? What about us?

What about us? Jesus took on our humanity, and he took that humanity with him when he ascended to the right hand of God, as Paul says. I wonder if the disciples remembered, when they were standing there staring at Jesus’ feet, that Jesus had told them, where I go you will also be (John 14), I go to prepare a place for you. Jesus went to the throne of God. I don’t know if we take that in, if we take that seriously all the time. We know that Jesus is, as the old language puts it, king and ruler over all. But do we remember that through our baptism and our participation in Jesus’ life and ministry, we are also heirs to God’s kingdom?

It reminds me of one of the lesser known of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the children’s book the Silver Chair. The book is about a prince, the heir of the kingdom of Narnia, who has been kidnapped by an evil witch. She uses magic to keep him in her power and forget who he is and tells him she is building an army so that he can take over the kingdom of Narnia, she’s going to make him king. When he finally gets free and finds out who he really is, he says to her, you were going to make me king? I’m already the heir of that kingdom, I don’t have to conquer it with an army; it’s already mine. She was trying to trick him into attacking his own kingdom, and taking over what was already his.

I am quite sure C.S. Lewis intended this to be a metaphor for the human condition. We feel powerless, not in control. Having tornadoes in Massachusetts definitely reminds us that we’re not in control of this world, or what happens to us. So, sometimes, we overcompensate by trying to control what we can. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it’s really OK if Lucy wears plaid pants with a stripped shirt to school. I don’t need to be in control of that. Now, for church on Sunday that’s a completely different issue!

Sometimes, in our despair over our own powerlessness, we take it even further than what our kids wear.  We try to pass laws to control others, or to privilege our group, race, class, whatever, over another group. If you think of white supremacist groups, there are some people who really feel powerless. We misuse and abuse power, because we feel like we’re not in control. But that’s because we’re not listening to Jesus. Jesus said, where I go you will go. You will be clothed with power from on high. We don’t need to create our own power, we have God’s power. We don’t have to steal a kingdom that’s already ours. We don’t have to put other people down to raise ourselves up.

And sometimes we have the opposite problem. We think, who am I to claim any kind of power or authority in the world, or even in my own community? I went to a spirituality workshop recently where the speaker was telling us to remember that we are God’s beloved children. Then she asked us to turn to the others at our table and talk about what that felt like, to say out loud that we are God’s beloved. I was paired up with an older gentleman who I’ve always regarded as being just very holy and a good person, a clergy person who I’ve always hoped, someday I could be a priest like that. . So I was surprised when he said, I can’t really relate to being God’s beloved. I’m not that great. What’s so special about me? We talked about it for awhile and decided there is a big difference in saying, I’m beloved, everyone loves me, I’m so great. And saying, I’m God’s beloved, God loves me and that truly does make me special and important. When we puff ourselves up, it’s just air. But God’s puffing is the breath of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that has clothed us with power from on high.

I mean, do you know how important you are? You are heir to the kingdom of God! All of creation is just waiting for you to come into your kingdom. We have been clothed with power from on high.  We have the power to work with God, not against God, to create a just and peaceful world.

The Ascension proves this to us in two ways. First, we may think, we may know, that our humanity is broken and full of faults, but the Ascension shows how valuable humanity is to God. Jesus drew our humanity into the very heart of God.

Second, God trusts us to carry on the work without micromanagement. Have you ever had a boss who is a micromanager, who hangs over you and checks every little thing? How annoying is that? God is not like that. Jesus leaves, he says, power is coming, you guys will be fine, you can do it. We have faith in God, but God also has faith in us. That’s big, that’s strong medicine. God trusts us to do God’s work in the world without Jesus hanging over us double-checking everything. We are empowered by God.

So as the disciples are sitting there, watching Jesus’ feet, angels appear to them and say, Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? In other word, whatcha standin’ around for? Jesus has gone to the throne of God, you also are heirs of God’s kingdom. You are clothed with power from on high. No need to stand around looking for Jesus. He’s everywhere you are. Go and claim your place in God’s kingdom. 

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