A sister priest, Reverend Bev Bingle from Toledo, Ohio wrote this homily for her community about the Ascension of the Lord. I thought it too good to sit in my computer and gather dust and so am passing it on to you. Spend some time with it, especially when you come to the part of the homily that asks what Jesus is asking of us, today, right here, right now.
Blessings and laughter,
Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord,
we hear scriptures about Jesus ascending into heaven that are obviously not literal. We know that it’s another one of those stories that is true but didn’t actually happen, an experience of Divine Presence that the followers of Jesus tried to express in language and story that fit the world view of their time.
There are some obvious clues that lead us to see these as expressions of faith experience instead of historical fact. Among other scripture scholars, Fr. Raymond Brown points to the developed theology of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, written between 60 and 63 AD, about 30 years after the disciples experienced the resurrection and ascension. Paul uses metaphors of his time and place—metaphors familiar to the Greco-Roman socio-political culture—to express the truth that Jesus has been lifted up and lives in God for ever. He describes Jesus as above all earthly powers, head of the church, Lord of creation. Those are images that fit his time.
Twenty to forty years after Ephesians, an unknown author wrote the two pieces of scripture that we know as Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Our New American Bible has a footnote showing that they can’t be historical because the ascension happens on Easter Sunday night in the Gospel, then forty days later in the Acts of the Apostles. So, while the Bible is true, these stories are not factual recordings of historical events. Another way we know that the ascension stories are attempts to tell about Jesus’ meaning rather than relate history comes in that there are three forms of the final commission that Jesus is shown as giving to his disciples. One is found in Matthew (28:18-20), one in John (20:22-23), and one in Luke (24:44-48) and Acts (1:8). Scholars make other observations that point to the evolution of thinking about Jesus as the Christian community grew. For example, Luke has Jesus say,
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 and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.
Scholars say that Luke wrote those words as a basic summary of the early Christian idea that the Torah and the prophets foretold Jesus’ life, teaching, death, and resurrection. They were trying to reconcile what they thought about Jesus while he was alive and preaching with what had happened to him and with their continuing experience of his presence with them.
Another example is that the commissioning in Luke, telling the disciples to preach the good news to all the nations, expresses the goals of the early Christian community as they ponder the significance of Jesus for them. Those disciples, as the scriptures tell us, mistakenly thought Jesus was a Messiah who would take charge of the state, set up a government, reign as king… like David. But then he was crucified, and they began to understand that his kingdom was not a worldly one. They met and broke bread and remembered, re-telling their memories and continuing to experience his ongoing presence with them.
Imagine them getting together and talking.
What did Jesus do?
What did he say we should do?
What does that mean for us now?
And they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
That’s what we do, still, today.
We listen to the scriptures.
We ask ourselves what they mean.
We ponder our own experiences of the Spirit among us in light of the experiences recorded by our ancestors in faith. We express our own experiences of the Spirit of God in ways that make sense to us, given our understanding of science and humanity.
One of the messages we hear in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is that Jesus lives in God.
Another message that we hear is that, as followers of the way of Jesus, we are commissioned to spread the good news throughout the world. That good news is that all of creation— including Jesus, including us—lives with God and in God, eternally.
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Bev Bingle