Acts 1: 1-14
April 19, 2020
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
In today’s reading from Acts, Jesus actually does rise. Today, we hear of his ascension … the true end of his earthly visit.
Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus’ ascension. Now, in the Book of Acts, Luke adds some details … some texture … to the scene.
Today, the apostles have experienced the Holy Spirit … Jesus has joined with them … and provided proof that it is, indeed, him … and spoke to the apostles about the kingdom of God.
Of course, the apostles still have questions … like wondering when Israel will be restored … set free from the oppression of Rome. Something that the first people who heard the words written to Theophilus were still wondering some 50 or so years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus also commissioned the gathered apostles to embrace the Holy Spirit and to take their witness from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
Then, Jesus is lifted … raised … up into the clouds.
The scene marks an ending … and a beginning.
Biblical scholar Ronald Allen once wrote that in the Gospel of Luke everything flows toward the ascension and in the Book of Acts, everything flows out from the ascension.
While the gathering is watching Jesus ascend, two men suddenly appear and ask, “… why do you stand there looking up toward heaven?”
The two tell the gathering that Jesus will return in the same manner as he ascended.
In the meantime, the apostles and … in fact, all of us … live in the in-between time… what we have come to call “liminal time.”
It’s a time when we can either move forward … move backwards … or stand on the threshold, unable to decide which way to go.
We wait for the moment the men in white promised in today’s reading.
The followers are called to live according to what Jesus taught them during his ministry in the Galilee. This liminal time … this in-between time … is when the apostles and all those they bring into the family of followers … can demonstrate the character of the Kingdom of God.
John McClure is a professor at Vanderbuilt Divinity School.
In writing about today’s passage from Acts, McClure said:
“We are reminded that we are not left in an in-between world without spiritual power and purpose. There are very important things to do during these times as we work toward God’s new day: visiting the sick, being advocates for justice, renewing the church, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, praying, studying the Bible worshiping together.
“The in-between time is a time to turn ourselves toward others, living and ministering beyond ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When the apostles asked Jesus if his presence with them meant that it was time for the Israel to be restored to its former glory … perhaps returning to a time when they ruled over their own land … or when they were able to worship as they desired.
They were looking to the past as if it was the future.
But Jesus tells them that it’s not that time … he implies that the old way of looking at the world needs to die away and something new needs to grow in its place.
The ending becomes a beginning.
During this in-between time, the apostles … empowered by the Holy Spirit are called to take the message of hope out to the world.
To do so, they need to lower their gaze from the clouds … they need to see what’s around them … to see their surroundings and act upon what they see.
These same instructions have travelled through the centuries to each of us … to offer hope within others.
The author of Acts offers listeners an opportunity to celebrate the church’s witness wherever they travel.
We are called to bear witness to the love … the grace … that we have been gifted and to celebrate its transformation of our lives.
Although the risen Christ is no longer physically present, Christ remains present in followers’ hearts. God is active in our hearts and in the world … I think we need to remember that … I think we need to be a reminder of that.
We can find ourselves feeling like God is absent … especially in this time when the pandemic heightens the sense of disconnectiveness and of isolation. We can feel alone … staring at an empty tomb or at the clouds … left to wonder what comes next… left to wonder what the resurrection truly means in our lives.
We are left to wonder what the world … what our lives … what our congregation … what our church … what new life will look like … when we come out the other side of this crisis.
Perhaps, some of us spend too much time looking at the clouds … looking up, not looking out… thinking of self rather than practising selflessness.
By constantly looking skyward or inward, we aren’t able to see the world around us … perhaps, that is intentional … both consciously and subconsciously … the pain and suffering around us can get a bit overwhelming.
But now, is the time when love is needed.
Now, is a time when fostering a sense of belonging … a sense of connection … is more important than ever. It is a time to look beyond the tomb and to the world around it.
Easter, the resurrection, the promise that Christ will return is still taking place today. Easter never was a one-day event.
I read somewhere that every Sunday is a piece of Easter.
Every Sunday …
I like that thought … I’d even go farther and say that every day is a piece of Easter … that each breath we take … if it doesn’t carry a piece of Easter, at least carries the promise of Easter.
That each breath carries the promise of something wonderful … something love-filled.
The past … when the past dies away … something new grows … there is new life.
And in this new life … in this abundant love … there is cause for celebration.
Let us celebrate …
Christ is risen …
He is risen indeed…