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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Ascension 05/21/2020

Today is Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. In a way, this is the other bookend of the liturgical cycle that started with Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, an event we celebrated back at the beginning of April. In between we’ve been through the events of Holy Week followed by Easter with its empty tomb and resurrection appearance stories. The first lessons since Easter have been from the book of Acts recounting some of the post-resurrection activities of the disciples and others as the early church began to take shape.

Today though we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension, his exaltation to the right hand of the Father as we say in the creeds. It’s not the end of the Easter season; we still have ten days to go but it does mark the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. You could call the Ascension the victory march of his earthly ministry, a ministry that had its ups and downs but ends on this final up. Psalm 47 that I read speaks of a celebration accompanied by singing and clapping and shouting as “God has gone up with a shout, with the sound of the ram’s horn.” But…while that might be a good description of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, it doesn’t really describe the Ascension; we might celebrate it as such, but the text describes it differently.

The Ascension of Jesus took place in relative obscurity in the village of Bethany on the Eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives. Unlike the crowds that welcomed him into Jerusalem, for the Ascension the only ones present were his disciples and possibly Mary and some of the other women, the text isn’t really clear on that, however, in icons of the Ascension, Mary is actually the central figure. The atmosphere surrounding these two bookend events though was quite different. What was similar was the confusion concerning Jesus’ identity.

On Palm Sunday it’s pretty clear that Jesus was viewed as the political and/or military leader who would somehow throw off the yoke of the Roman Empire and claim independence for Israel. When he was crucified, the logical conclusion would have been that that wasn’t going to happen, but…after Easter and the experience of Jesus being raised from the dead, those former hopes would also seem to have been raised from the dead.

After all they had been through though, you still might think the disciples would have at least started to get the idea that the kingship of Jesus, the messiahship of Jesus was something different, but apparently not; they couldn’t get past the traditional understanding of the messiah, still wanting to fit Jesus into those categories. So…at the beginning of this today’s reading from Acts, just prior to Jesus’ Ascension, there’s the question, “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They still didn’t understand that real glory for Jesus wasn’t accompanied by singing and shouting and the sound of the ram’s horn. Glory for him was about humility which is not the way of the world as Jesus’ glory was about strength revealed in weakness, the wisdom of the world undone by the folly of the gospel.

A review of other events in Jesus’ life as they are recorded in the gospels shows the same pattern of divine humility. His birth took place in a relatively obscure village to a young couple of no account. The first ones to know of his birth were lowly shepherds. Jesus’ Transfiguration, an event in some ways similar to the Ascension and which was more of a glimpse of divine glory was witnessed by only three of his disciples. His crucifixion was among criminals in the presence of a crowd, but it was a mocking, hostile crowd with his disciples having abandoned him. The resurrection itself was not witnessed by anyone. And now his Ascension.

It happens in obscurity but for those present, the image of Jesus rising into heaven had to have been awe inspiring just as the experience of the Transfiguration had to have been quite spectacular. In both cases though, those present were quickly reminded that marveling at these glimpses of what they thought of as glory was not really what Jesus was all about. He was about divine humility and for them their mission wasn’t to strive for the world’s glory but to model Jesus’ humility in service to others; with words and action, they were to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. After 2000 years, the mission hasn’t changed.

That’s enough for today but next Sunday’s first reading overlaps with today’s so I’ll have more to say then.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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