A Cycle – Feast of the Ascension 20
Mt. 28: 16-20
During the pandemic each of us have been isolated from people we love, from our faith community, from social events we love, and we wonder if we will ever return to normal. I presided over the funeral of a friend who died of an aneurysm during the pandemic. The funeral was sad with 10 people grieving without the consoling community to help them. Weeks later sitting with the husband, his pain remains, and it is hard to console someone without touching them. I mention this because the disciples during the past weeks have been in a similar place as my friend. They are grieving and even with Jesus appearing to them they are still confused and have doubts.
They are following his directions and today find themselves on the mountain still full of doubts. They were without a clue about what is going on, how long it will last, or what it means. But the good news is they show up. During these forty days, Jesus gave them signs, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. He also instructed them to wait for the “promise of God” which would be given to them by the Holy Spirit. The scriptures do not tell us how they reacted to those words other than they did exactly what Jesus told them to do, wait. You can almost hear their inner thoughts, what are we waiting for. You can; hear their internal doubts because those doubts are ours today as we wait and pray for our own fears about the future to be alleviated. How many times have we prayed without feeling the presence of Jesus?
Yet they were also hearing those last words of Jesus, “John baptized with water but in a few days, you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Did they discuss among themselves what that meant? The scriptures do not tell us the answer to that question, but the scriptures do give us a clue. As Jews they would have heard of the “promise of God” to send his Spirit to us as part of a new covenant making it possible for us to “know” him. If you have heard me preach, speak, or attended one of my courses you know the prophesy of Jeremiah where God reveals how he will reconcile us to himself became to be known as the promise of God.
You can read this promise in Jeremiah Chapter 31: 33-34. That prophesy fulfillment was anxiously waited for hundreds of years. Almost a century later God through the Prophet Ezekiel reveals how he was going to fulfill that promise by changing our hearts by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (EZ. 32:26-27).
So as they gathered in that upper room in prayer I believe they were asking Jesus to fulfill not only the promise of God but to send that Spirit to them, as he said he would do the night before he died. They were praying for this baptism of the Spirit, the promise of God to happen to them because it would change them. Expectant faith is on display on this day we celebrate the Ascension not because Jesus in one with the Father again, but because of what it means for us.
Right now, you may be thinking, what does the Ascension of Jesus mean for me. Let me use Paul’s words which are given to us in the second reading today. Paul the Apostle once an unbelieving Jew Saul of Tarsus had his own baptism of the Spirit after Jesus appears to him on the road to Damascus. Listen to the beginning action of the Holy Spirit as it changes our hearts so we will “know” God. He knows God will give us a “spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him(self). May the eyes of your heart be enlightened, that you that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead” (Eph. 1:17-20).
We will see how the Spirit accomplished all those things in the disciples after the Ascension. The lesson for us is they waited for this to happen, they prayed for this to happen, they doubted but they believed it would happen because they obeyed the final words of Jesus. Those words are eternal words, living words meant for all generations and they should be heeded by each of us. Pray for wisdom and revelation, pray for the eyes of your hearts to be enlightened as I do for mine to be enlightened. Do all of this so we know what awaits us who believe. The inheritance is ours, we cannot earn it, instead we must open ourselves to receive it. Once that happens, we can tap into the greatness of His power because it is available to us to make us effective witnesses of God’s love.
Once we grasp this promise we can offer those who have doubts, those who are grieving, those who are lost, those who are seeking answers the one thing which will give them all they seek – that same Spirit of revelation and wisdom.