Acts 1: 6-14
Grace and peace on this Seventh Easter Sunday, the Sunday after Ascension Thursday, the Sunday before Whitsunday and Pentecost--and center stage this morning the scene as described in the 24th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel and then again in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The risen Christ appears to his gathered disciples at the top of the mountain. He teaches them, gives them a missionary charge, raises his hand in a final blessing, and then is lifted up out of their sight. One beat, two beats: time seems to stand still. And then two men in white. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
What seemed for a moment like the end of the story, not the end at all. It seemed like he was leaving us. But all at once we understand that he hasn’t in fact gone anywhere. Not a departure, but a grand liturgy of investiture and inauguration. He has been exalted to his heavenly throne, to extend the royal metaphor, ruling all things in heaven and earth, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, for ever and ever.
That the quiet mystery of the Baby born in Bethlehem and set down in swaddling clothes to sleep in a manger bed as the angels sang their quiet carols through the night is now perfectly revealed in power and majesty, a crescendo, that the course of history turns in a new direction, all towards heaven, to the fulfillment of the promise, all creation made new, healed, restored. And for those who are in Christ, a new citizenship, a new Temple, a Royal Priesthood. The priesthood of Christ, into which we as we trust in him and place our lives in his care are now incorporated, into the full power of God’s mercy and grace and love.
Why stand here looking up into heaven? As if you are bereft. Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere. All around you. Continuing present tense in the life of his church. And coming again, in power and glory. In Word and Sacrament. Manifest when Word and Sacrament are put into action. Present in faithful and obedient lives. Present in the spirit of his gospel. In lives shaped and reformed by him to share humility and grace and forgiveness. To join the festive procession, into all nations, teaching everything that he commanded, generation by generation proclaiming to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins, equipping and inspiring. New marching orders as the King takes his position at the head of the column.
He will return. The assurance of the angelic messengers to those standing on the mountaintop. No question about it. Not a language of symbol, but the foundation of a new reality. He will return. So certainly, that it is in this reality already taking place. The door swinging open. As Paul says in First Thessalonians, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.” To find not a world of strangers, but that his own rich and continuing life in us, in our lives, will rise up to greet him. To find a Kingdom claimed for him, his possession.
The chorus sings an Ascension anthem. The whole Ascension festival is music and poetry, overflowing words of praise. Echoing the hymn of praise that King David sang at the coronation of his son Solomon as king: try, overflowing words of praise. s, in our lives, will rise up to greet him. A “Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the Kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.”
Not the end of Easter season, but the perfect expression of Easter, its fulfillment. For us this morning.
I’ve told the story before and most of you have heard how one day back I think in the middle ‘70’s I was in the reading room of St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley and saw someone reading a magazine called “Acts 29.” I was curious, so that evening I looked it up in my Bible, only to find that the Book of Acts ends at Chapter 28. Then the light bulb went on. How Acts 1-28 was the story of the first disciples, how they heard Jesus call them to be his agents, to go on before to the places where he was going, to prepare the way, to be the advance party, to preach the good news of sins forgiven and life renewed, to show forth in their lives the power of the Cross and the promise of the Empty Tomb, and to open doors and to live lives of faith--of holiness and righteousness, humility, grace, mercy, and love. That was their great story, chapters 1-28. And Chapter 29, that’s our story. The continuing adventures, the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his saints. Generation by generation, and of course then you and me here this morning, and as we pray after Communion: “Send us out into the world in peace, to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord.”
Don’t just stand there looking up into the sky, Men of Galilee, as if the story has come to an end. Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere. His story is just beginning, and the best part is beginning right here, right now.