Sermon–Ascension–May 8, 2016


Ascension Day

May 8, 2016

William Bradbury

Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

She was born in London on April 21, 1926. Upon the death of her father, King George VI, Elizabeth ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom on February 6, 1952. This does not mean she levitated into the sky, but entered into a new realm of power and authority. At her coronation on June 2, 1953 Queen Elizabeth, among many other things, was officially seated on the throne:  The official program of the coronation, says at that point: “Then shall the Queen go to her Throne, and be lifted up into it by the Archbishops and Bishops, and other Peers of the Kingdom.” This was not just good news for Elizabeth, but for the whole realm. For me this is a good way to understand the ascension of Jesus: it is not about levitation, but about coming into power and authority as God’s Son and as King, not of a country, but of a universe.

As the Letter to the Ephesians says, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named….”Because Jesus is human and divine, heaven and earth are forever joined together in him, so that wherever he goes we go with him. His ascension is not just about him but about all of us, and all of creation.

Listen deeply to what theologian Karl Barth writes: Involved in the Incarnation and in the Crucifixion is the humiliation of God. But in the Resurrection [and ascension] of Jesus Christ is involved the exaltation of humanity.”“Christ is now the Bearer of humanity, as our representative…The end of His work is that we are with him above. We with Him beside God.” Dogmatics in Outline, p.125

But what difference does this make to us? –All the difference, because it gives us the true and proper frame for our lives. In my office there is a small poster my daughter gave me from Zion National Park. It is a photograph of a woman wading up the middle of a stream in what is called the Narrows. She is walking away from the camera and is flanked by immense walls of red sandstone towering over her. It is a stunning shot, but there is a note of mystery, because just ahead of the woman the stream makes a sharp turn to the left, so that neither she nor we can see what is around the corner.So we have a choice: what frame shall we put on this picture? That is, what mindset or perspective do we bring to our understanding of what we see? 

Imagine this picture is in real time, and instead of a stranger the person walking is your child. If you’re like me, seeing your child there, many might go to fear as your default setting, as you imagine all kinds of terrible things coming around the corner that might soon overwhelm her: maybe a dam upstream has opened its floodgates and a 30 foot wall of water is hurtling down the canyon, washing away everything in its path. Perhaps there are some drunken men around the corner who will attack your child—like in the movie “Deliverance.”

In and of itself the single moment of this photograph is beautiful, but we have trouble living in the moment because after millennia of evolution our brains are hardwired to anticipate problems. And because of 24/7 media coverage of every bad thing happening in the world, it is easy to imagine the worst thing happening to people we love who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the tornado descends  or terrorist bombs go off in Boston.  So it is easy to frame this good moment with fear and anxiety.The gospel, however, tells us that this frame is untrue, not because bad things don’t happen, but because the ultimate frame on creation is the one put there by the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.

The New Testament bears witness to this Jesus-frame so we, too, can know the comfort of living within the grace and mercy of God.  So Paul says today:  “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation… so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you….”

So take a moment and wonder “What frame hold’s your life?”

Think about the disciples: if anyone deserves to suffer Post-Traumatic Stress it is them: On Good Friday they watch their Lord and friend brutally abused, tortured, and left to die on the cross in plain view of the world. Now they are alone, with no one to guide or protect them from the violent power of Rome. No one! Yet, here they are, after 40 days of occasional encounters with their Risen Lord, and it looks like they are saying goodbye to him all over again as he is removed from their sight by the divine presence, which is what the imagery of the cloud means in the Bible. And we might ask: what frame did they put on this picture of the vanishing Jesus: the familiar frame of fear, loss, and abandonment?

 Or the frame of faith, hope, love? Luke answers that question: After Jesus slips away “they worship him, and return to Jerusalem with great joy, continually in the temple blessing God.” They are filled with great joy because the one they love has not floated far away, but has only stepped through a crack in time into God’s dimension, so Jesus will forever be everywhere God is, filling and investing every moment with the grace, healing, and hope we see in his earthly ministry.

The Book of Acts says that after Jesus ascends to his throne this small group of believers, following his command, go into the world to live and to proclaim Jesus, their crucified and risen King. Yes, there was a tidal wave of violence coming to wash them away—just as we all have such a wave coming to carry us away, yet they say, as we do in our burial commendation: “even at the grave we make our song, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Since the Risen Christ is the wind beneath our wings, our work is to keep trusting Christ more and more, and living inside his love more and more. When we get caught up in imagining:

+there is no frame around our life, or that

+the god who is there is either powerless or

+just doesn’t care about us,

All we have to do is pray, “Lord Jesus, you are in charge of the universe and in charge of my life, and therefore I surrender my worries and fears and all those I love into your nail-scarred hands.”

Or maybe, you say out loud a verse of scripture:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.”


“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13


The words from a hymn we often sing on Trinity Sunday, which is two weeks from today: Sing verse 6 of hymn 370.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.