Scripture Reading: Acts 1:1–11 | Psalm 47 | Ephesians 1:15–23 | Luke 24:44–53
“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
This year is a pretty significant one for us members of the British Commonwealth: as we know, Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her 70th year on the throne. At the moment, she is apparently the third longest reigning monarch of all time, and in a few weeks she will be moving up to second place… but Louis the XIV of France still has a two-year lead on her. Still, 70+ years as Queen is a tremendous feat: a lifetime spent on the throne, with millions of citizens from all around the globe living under her authority.
But as remarkable as the reign of our country’s Queen has been, today we celebrate the reign and rule of One who is higher still… One whom Queen Elizabeth II herself acknowledges as the King of kings.
This week, Christians around the globe are celebrating the Ascension of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Our readings today from Acts and the Gospel of Luke recount how after His resurrection, the Risen Christ took leave of His disciples, in order to claim His cosmological kingship… to reign with God the Father as the ultimate authority in heaven and earth. We Christians publicly pay our allegiance to our King each week as we recite the Creeds, proclaiming our faith that Jesus “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father…” and when we claim that “His kingdom will have no end.”
But looking around our world today… at the various leaders of the nations with their wars and constant power games… at the horrific ways we humans treat each other, thinking especially this week of the murder of those schoolchildren and teachers in Uvalde, Texas… as we see the seemingly unending lists of injustices, tragedies, and disasters… it can be easy at times to imagine that our world’s out of control. That God must be unwilling, or unable to stand up against all this evil. That He either doesn’t care, or that He can’t do anything. I mean, why else would He allow His faithful subjects to suffer? When it looks like evil is calling the shots, what else are we supposed to believe?
But it’s precisely when the darkness is deepest that the light is most needed… and that is when our faith in Christ as King of Kings matters the most.
Without discounting the fact that we have been witnessing some truly horrible tragedies these days, and seem to be facing a season of increased fear and insecurity… this isn’t actually a new situation for the Church. From day one, Christians have been proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord of all in a world that constantly seems to be run by despots and warmongers, and those who stand opposed to the way of Jesus Christ.
In a word, we do not claim that Christ is King of kings because the world is already put to rights… but because we believe in, and know the One who already suffered in order to save it… and who is at work even now to bring about God’s Kingdom. We’ve been entrusted with the Good News of Jesus Christ, the crucified and Risen Lord, and it’s our mission to live as those who know who’s really on the throne.
In our reading today from Ephesians Chapter 1, the Apostle Paul, who faced his own fair share of discouragement and sufferings, writes to the Church in Ephesus, and highlights two gifts from God meant to enable them, and us, to stay true to our Christian calling: the gift of hope and the gift of His power. Ephesians 1:18-21 says, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:17-19).
Hope and power. But not the kind of hope that our world’s drawn to… the hope that’s built on visible success, and constant progress… the optimism that occurs when ‘everything’s going my way’. And not the kind of power our world craves either… that is, the power to force others to do our will, the power to take what we want, when we want it… and to crush those who oppose us.
No, to understand the gifts of hope and the power of God that St. Paul has in mind, we also need to have the “eyes of our hearts enlightened”… we need to come to know God’s character and heart, and how He’s chosen to reveal Himself and His Kingdom to the world. And where better to look to understand how God’s hope and God’s power enable us to fulfill our calling than to the examples of the early Christian witnesses, also known as the martyrs.
After the Lord Jesus ascended, and the events of Pentecost, the disciples began to proclaim the Good News that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that through Him, the reign of God, His Kingdom, has won the eternal victory over all the forces of death, sin, and spiritual darkness. As such, all peoples everywhere were now called to repent… to turn their lives towards God’s Kingdom, and to place their faith in the One who conquered the grave. To set aside old ways of life and old commitments that might have made sense if Caesar in Rome was truly king of kings, but which made no sense at all if the crucified and Risen Christ is truly Lord of all.
Many believed the Good News that they shared, and were drawn into the Christian community, sharing a whole new way of life devoted to God and one another in holy love… practicing things like forgiveness, generosity, and compassion in ways that often made their neighbours stop and take notice. Something about the Christian faith was out of sync with the rest of the world. Some were drawn to their strange way of life… while others tried to destroy it.
Time and again, the leaders of the nations, both great and small, found the message of Christ’s Kingdom and His way of life to be a threat, and so many Christians were publicly persecuted, arrested, tortured, and brutally executed… following in the footsteps of their Lord to the end. This story still continues in many places around the world today, with our Christian brothers and sisters having to practice their faith in secret just to survive.
And yet, in these very dark times, when the whole world seemed to be dead-set against them, many Christians stood firm in the faith, and refused to turn from the way of Christ… even if it cost them their life, or the lives of those they loved.
These brothers and sisters all came to know up close the evil at work in the world… but rather than giving in to their doubts, or the horrible pressures they faced, they held firmly onto the hope they had found in Jesus, the Risen Lord, and through His power at work in them, they found the strength to stay true. To lay down their lives like Jesus did, trusting that just as God had raised Him from the dead, they too would one day share in God’s New Life forever.
They knew, in other words, that no matter how hard those in power here on earth tried to secure their own place ‘on top’, Jesus the Risen Lord is the One who’s on the throne, and unlike even the longest-lived monarchs and dynasties, Christ’s is the only Kingdom that will truly have no end.
Ultimately, the Christian hope St. Paul speaks about is not about us… our strength, our circumstances, or even our survival. Our hope is in Jesus, the crucified and Risen One, who, though He reigns on high as King of kings, came first of all to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
We know the One who sits at God’s right hand in heaven cares deeply about our broken world, and that He is willing and able to do something about it… for He is the One who went through hell Himself at the cross to disarm the powers of darkness… to set us free from it’s horrible grasp, and set us free to share in His life forever.
Our hope rests on Jesus Christ our King, and this hope enables us to endure… to be faithful witnesses of God’s kingdom at work here and now, to let the whole world know by our words and our lives who’s really on the throne, and letting them know of His saving, self-giving love by putting it into practice.
This is the message of hope that the Ascension of Jesus calls to mind. But what about the power of God that St. Paul also spoke about?
Both our readings today, from Acts and the Gospel of Luke, point us in the same direction: to the coming of Holy Spirit, God’s own personal presence and power at work in His people. We’ll look a bit more into this next week as we celebrate Pentecost, but for now I think it’s enough to say that it’s through the Holy Spirit that our King Jesus brings His reign to life… in the lives of His people. As St. Paul said, the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, and set Him “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come…” is the same life-giving power of God at work in us who believe… enabling us to share the light of God’s good kingdom today.
It’s pretty unlikely that we will face outright persecution here in Gondola Point, but whatever pressures, darkness and doubts we face today, or in the days to come…
We can hold onto hope, and share this hope in our everyday lives... in what we say and do, in how we treat each other and all those around us. We can hold onto hope in the darkness, knowing that our Saviour’s on the throne, and He will reign forever. Amen.
 From the Nicene Creed, as found in the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada (Toronto, ON: Anglican Book Centre, 1985), 189.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School