Scripture Readings: Acts 1:1-11 | Psalm 47 | Ephesians 1:15-23 | Luke 24:44-53
“You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:48-49.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
It feels a bit like the winds are changing… like a fresh breeze is blowing in.
On Friday we had one of the hottest days here in the Kennebecasis Valley so far this year. As it was combined with our Province’s decision to open us up of the next phase of the COVID-19 recovery plan (the “Yellow Phase”, to be precise), it seemed to me that a lot of people were getting excited about enjoying this new sense of freedom, as well as making the most of what felt like the first day of summer. We know the pandemic and its many effects are still far from over, but there is also a new sense of energy and excitement at work here too.
I mean really, a lot of us were getting pretty sick of ‘staying in’. We’re getting antsy… we want to get on with things again… Perhaps the impulse to throw caution to the wind and ‘get back to business’ quickly is growing more and more tempting in our eager minds, and the remaining safety measures and guidelines are starting to seem less and less essential. At this point though, maybe we need to ask ourselves again: why are we waiting? What is really at the root of our need to move ahead with caution and patience?
Put simply, we ‘wait’ because we are called to love our neighbours: To care for them, and for each other, by exercising self-control… and patience, and gentleness, and peace… by seeking the protection and well-being, both physically and mentally, of the people God has placed with us in the wider community. As Christians especially, we need to be as prepared as we can be for the days ahead, so that we can better show all those around us God’s long-suffering love through what we do. This is not living in fear, it is a choice to act with humility: of acknowledging our limited expertise of what the future may hold, and perhaps setting aside our own desires for the sake of loving others. As much as we may want to rush ahead, we are being called, with good reason, to wait.
In our Scripture readings today, we can get a sense of this same sort of tension at work. We can almost feel the anticipation and eagerness in the words of Christ’s disciples: “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”” (Acts 1:6). This question was asked at a turning point in the story of our Lord: He had just spent 40 days with His disciples after His suffering, death, and resurrection… convincing them of the amazing reality of His tangible victory over death, “and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the long-awaited reunion of heaven and earth envisioned by the ancient Hebrew prophets, and which the risen Jesus had identified with Himself and His mission. The disciples were eager to experience the fullness of this Kingdom for themselves, to taste God’s New Creation, kick-started when Christ was raised from the dead… rescuing His people, and restoring His broken creation at last, and I think that’s understandable. I mean, if not now, in the wake of their beloved Master’s resurrection, then when? At least He could let them know a bit of the timeline.
Rather than satisfy their curiosity, and appease their anticipation of the coming of God’s kingdom, Christ instead reminds His disciples that they have a job to do: They are now tasked to be His apostles, that is, ‘the ones who are sent’ as His witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord with all the world… a task that would firmly take hold of their lives, and which has been handed down to all believers.
But first… they must be patient. Jesus commands His followers first to wait in the city of Jerusalem until they receive “power from on high”: the Holy Spirit of God. As important and urgent as their mission, as the Church’s mission was, they were commanded not to rush ahead, but to wait for the Spirit.
Why? What could be so challenging about being Christ’s witnesses that they needed some sort of external, heavenly support? Isn’t it all fairly straightforward? Something anyone could do? Why was it so important for the apostles to wait?
A few weeks back, I shared a bit about what it means to be a witness for Christ (See “All of Us Are Witnesses” - Easter II - April 19 2020), and how, among other things, it entails not simply the passing on of information about the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and God’s Kingdom at work in Him, but of “living in such a way that its truth becomes believable”. Of our lives being shaped and transformed by the Gospel… by God’s new creation tangibly taking root in our day to day existence, intentionally opening us up to our Lord’s continual guidance.
And that is something we cannot simply create in ourselves… it is a way of life dependent on the power and grace of God. One scholar puts it this way: “Jesus appoints his followers to be “witnesses” or testifiers to the truth. Sharing personal opinion with others would not suffice. Dispensing tidbits of worldly wisdom was not their task. This was to be a mission guided by God, not one where they would proceed on their own terms. They were to be clothed with power from on high… The church is powerless on its own without the Spirit. Anyone serving in Jesus’ name would need to be guided by the strength of the Spirit.” As the rest of the story of Acts, and the history of the Church unfolds, we can see the truth of this statement again and again. Where we Christians rush ahead and neglect the guidance and power that comes from God, we fall. When we wait on Him, and lean on Him, His New Creation abounds.
Before Christians can be sent out to truly reveal the Living God’s redemptive work to the world… they must first be empowered by the Living God at work in them.
Here in New Brunswick, in Gondola Point, today’s Scripture passages speak to us as well: Through them, God is affirming that we too have a mission… a task set before us: to make the Good News of Jesus Christ known to our world in all we do. There are many ways we can do this, but ultimately THIS is why we are here! Sharing in God’s new creation in Jesus Christ, living in His self-giving love, so those all around us can share in it too.
But first… we too must be patient… we too must learn to look for, and wait for, our Lord… to recognize that we cannot really do this mission apart from God’s power at work in us… apart from the Holy Spirit… anymore than a candle can illumine a darkened room without its first being lit. The temptation to rush off and start “getting things done” can be a strong one. Yes, we have a mission, we have important work to do, but not on our own. Our Lord intends to accomplish it by His power at work in and through us.
Because, after all, the Good News is not primarily about us and what we are doing… it is about the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… and what this God has done and is completing even now. Ascension Sunday celebrates, not first of all Christ’s directions for us His followers, but His enthronement as the Anointed Ruler of all creation, who is now victoriously seated at the right hand of God the Father. Today “He is announced as King and Lord,” another scholar maintains, “not as an increasingly distant memory but as a living and powerful reality, a person who can be known and loved, obeyed and followed, a person who continues to act within the real world.” We are called to be His witnesses, sharing in His gracious Kingdom and making it known by His Spirit at work in us. The only way forward for the Church is to faithfully follow, and wait for Him.
Next Sunday is Pentecost, when Christians all around the world commemorate the sending of the Holy Spirit on the first believers, when God first empowered them to truly take part in and make His Kingdom known in the world. Today, Ascension Sunday, may we lay all our plans and desires again at the feet of Jesus, our Risen and Reigning King and Lord, and moving forward may our lives be shaped by an eagerness to wait for Him, and to find our true mission and power by patiently looking to Him. Amen. Alleluia!
 Marty, P. W. (2001). Ascension of the Lord, Years A, B, C. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The lectionary commentary: theological exegesis for Sunday’s texts, volume three (p. 470). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 2). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.