Reference: Acts 1:1-11
He tried all the educational tools he knew: lecture, analogy, example, visual aids, drama, discussions, leading questions and more. They grasped some of it, but the crucial heart of it still escaped them. This was after four years of intensive study. He was usually very patient, although the frustration he felt became apparent occasionally. If you have been a teacher or a parent, you can probably relate.
Finally, he could wait no longer. The event, crucial to the whole world, would have to go ahead even while they were essentially still clueless. At first, they remained clueless, even afterwards, when it should have been obvious, as indeed it has become in hindsight. But sometimes it takes a trauma or major shake-up for the point to be made. It has been observed that generals usually learn much more from defeat than from victory. And the event, in all its phases, had certainly disoriented and traumatized them. They believed until the moment of Crucifixion that Jesus would lead them in establishing an earthly kingdom, in which they would hold important posts. No matter how much he tried to show them what would actually happen, they were fixated on their own convictions as to what would happen. His death was totally devastating, because it was clearly the end of those aspirations. The crucial difference post-Resurrection, however, was that he had their attention. Before the Crucifixion when he tried to discuss this with them, they were more interested in arguing with each other about who was the greatest among them. When he appeared to them after the Resurrection, the trauma plus the obvious fact that their previous assumptions were wrong, made them focus and they finally understood. It transitioned them from inept disciples into efficient apostles.
Only then could Jesus move to the next step of devolving authority onto them. They are bestowed with the power of “the office of the keys,” to absolve or retain sins, and they are ready to receive the leadership of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their office. Jesus has managed to achieve more with them in the forty days after the Resurrection than in the four years of teaching prior to it. Mission accomplished, he returns in triumph and re-assumes his glory in the eternal realms.
Ascension Day, celebrated annually on the fortieth day after Easter, marks the successful conclusion of the mission and the return to glory, crowned with the new coronation of the resurrected monarch of a creation saved and now on the road to restoration as the paradise it once was. In much of Europe, the day is a civic holiday, but no longer does the populace throng to church to give glory to the victorious Lord. In America, the day passes unnoticed in the bustling civic marketplaces of commerce and enterprise. Increasingly, the day is ignored in churches as well. It is good the heavenly choirs of angels are there on this day to sing praises because those who might constitute the earthly choirs are mostly too distracted, like the first disciples, by the fixations of their own ideas of success.
We appear to be regressing back to the days of inept and inattentive disciples. Surely the historic church year makes clear, from the beginning of the celebration of the Incarnation at the end of November to the triumphant conclusion on this Ascension Day all the way at the end of May, that the central focus of the Christian church is the mission of Jesus to save us and his whole creation, motivated by his love. That should be enough time to make the point. The Holy Spirit, come into our midst to guide us in this, has not left us. The keys still remain with us to unlock the door to that loving God.
A survey of Christian activity and message suggests otherwise. Like a hoarder given a beautiful house who crams it with all manner of junk and debris, the message of the church is scrambled. Should the same-sex partners of bishops be invited to Lambeth, the big decennial event for Anglican bishops? That is only one question of a multitude in regard to sex; what is the correct view of same-sex relations in general, of transgendered persons, of divorced and remarried persons, of non-married sexual activity, of short skirts or wearing shorts to church, of required celibacy for priests or bishops, of contraception, of legislating a prohibition of abortion, of sex education? What about drinking alcohol, gambling, dancing, Halloween goblins, Santa Claus, marijuana, eating pork, voting Republican, six 24-hour day creation and evolution, observing the Sabbath? How about the way the world will end, the rapture, Armageddon, Christian Zionism, covering your pretty head in church, whether or not Muslims/Buddhists/ Jews/ or Christians who don’t think like you will go to heaven? The list is almost endless, although it varies by denomination and demographics. The answer?
God loves everyone, no exceptions. What you do with that for yourself is up to you. How it applies to others Jesus makes crystal clear is not up to you to judge. It is above our pay grade. Our job, like the first disciples, is apostolic; we are sent to deliver the message of God’s love, implemented by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the mission whose successful conclusion we celebrate on Ascension Day.
Our failure to competently deliver the one message of good news mandated by Jesus to be done by us, and its replacement by a jumble of messages ranging from the entirely trivial through the distracting and incorrect to, at the very best, the penultimate, has confused and mostly lost entire modern generations. That previous generations of Christians have sometimes been just as bad isn’t really much of an excuse. However, the Holy Spirit is still here to guide us. The Crucifixion and Resurrection has not been annulled, the mission is still accomplished, Jesus now reigns in glory to this day and beyond. Salvation is ours for the repenting and asking. The inept disciples focused on notions of personal power and glory became the articulate, effective apostles of the message of God’s love for his world, including you, I and our neighbor. In the apostolic succession, it is now our turn. There is still time, if you are reading this the last day is not here yet. It is not too late. God still loves us.
Good. Now get busy. You have something to say.