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God’s vision is there to see if only we open our minds and hearts

  • May 7, 2015

Ascension of the Lord (Year B) May 17 (Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20)

Acts I of Luke’s magnificent account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus ended with the commission to the apostles in the upper room, the joyful reaction of His followers and the ascension of Jesus. When the curtain went up in Act II, Luke revisited the time between the Resurrection and the ascension. This time we are treated to a detailed account of what turns out to be a leisurely 40 days of instruction on the kingdom of God.

The impatient apostles were like dogs straining to be let off the chain. They were so anxious for the fireworks — the expulsion of the hated Romans and the reestablishment of the kingdom of Israel. But as is so often the case, and much to the frustration of humans, God’s plans and timetable were very different. Their queries about the divine timetable were rather brusquely dismissed by Jesus. The divine intentions were far, far above their paygrade, and they were advised to pay attention to the instructions that they had been given. The plan was for them to remain in the city of Jerusalem until the power from on high came upon them — the Holy Spirit. The fiery Spirit would pull them out of their fear and trepidation, propelling them to the ends of the Earth to proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

The words of the two men in white robes are as relevant today as they were then. They advised the onlookers to stop looking up to Heaven or wondering when Jesus was going to come again. The people in the crowd were much like people today, spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out God’s timetable or guess what is just around the corner. The return of Jesus will be abundantly clear to all. He will be found where He always was — in our midst and in our lives. In the meantime, they were to get on with God’s work — preparing the rest of humanity to receive God’s word and doing God’s work.   

Followers of Jesus have an array of tools to aid them in this work. The power that is at work in Christ also works in us, bestowing the spirit of wisdom and enlightening the eyes of the heart. Beyond that, we will also come to know the inheritance that awaits us. Jesus shares all that He is with us. As we look around at a world that seems to spin out of control, we need to remember that all creation has been subjected to Jesus. The work of bringing all this to completion continues, and as members of the body of Christ we all have our part to play in God’s plan of redemption. Being a disciple of Jesus is never a free pass or spectator activity.

If Luke-Acts is a two-part play, then the Gospel of Mark is a book with revised editions. The original Gospel ended at 16:8 — the women ran away and told no one, for they were afraid. Many years or even centuries later, various Christian communities wrote sequels to the story — we have at least three today. They attempted to bring Mark in line with the other Gospels by providing a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus and a mission to His followers.

We should note that the good news was to be proclaimed to all creation, not just humans. This was confirmed by the bizarre assurances that believers would be able to handle poisonous snakes and drink deadly poison without harm. Some people have and still do take this literally and put it to the test, often with disastrous results.

But it should be understood as a theological statement in keeping with the vision of Isaiah. In the new age all aspects of creation — animals, humans and so on — are in harmony with one another and with God. Strife and division have been overcome and the world made anew. Jesus now “sits” at the right hand of the Father, signifying His power and authority. We might ask why the world seems to show so little evidence of what this proclamation promises. God’s plan unfolds over time, and this beautiful vision will not be totally realized until human minds and hearts are open and pure enough to accept it. The work continues, and each of us has an important role to play.

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