You also will bear witness.
This morning in the Church we remember that in-between time – between Ascension and Pentecost. The Ascension is when 40 days after Easter, Jesus went up bodily into heaven before the eyes of the Apostles – the Church commemorated that last Thursday. Pentecost is the Descending of the Holy Spirit on the Church 10 days later, which we will remember next Sunday. Imagine – 10 days without their Lord in the flesh, and 10 days without His Spirit.
The Ascension of Jesus into heaven signals the completion of all his works on earth – his birth, life of teaching and miracles, his passion and death, and his resurrection. And it would be the beginning of something new – God’s Kingdom being revealed on earth, and the lifting up of His people heavenward by His power.
1 How does Jesus’ ascension lead to our ascension into heaven?
In our Baptism, our souls and bodies are united to Jesus by His Spirit. Because of this union, His grace is lifting our thoughts to eternal things, is moving our hearts to care about eternal things – Wisdom, righteousness, holiness, love. Because we are joined mystically to Jesus, our ascension is the most natural thing possible – we actually have to stop it for it not to happen.
Ricki Lee Jones, a pop singer, wrote a song Falling Up, with a line that keeps repeating Try to remember, we are falling up. In the music video, as she sings away, all these characters keep lifting up off from the earth and going up. She is describing something that St. Augustine in the 4th century describes in his autobiography (the Confessions). He puts it this way:
A body inclines by its own weight towards the place that is fitting for it. Weight does not always tend towards the lowest place, but the one which suits it best, for though a stone falls, a flame rises. If oil is poured into water it rises to the surface, but it water is poured on to oil, it sinks below the oil…In my case, love is the weight by which I act…I am drawn by love. [Lord] By your Gift, [his name for the Holy Spirit], we are set aflame and borne aloft…It is your fire, your good fire, that sets us aflame and carries us upward. [xiii, 9]
The love of God in us makes us ascend. It is for us simply to allow ourselves to be captured by love and lifted by that holy flame.
2 What could prevent that from happening?
St. Peter, in our Epistle reading [1 St Peter 4:7-10], says, The end of all things is at hand… It is another way of saying that God, who is our end, is very close to us. This is especially true because of our baptism and faith in Jesus. So he gives us some advice about how we could meet the End of all things.
Peter speaks about the importance of prayer: Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded, for the sake of your prayers.
Why? because to hear God speaking to us inwardly in our soul requires our attention – if we eat too much or too little, sleep too much or too little, spend too much time working, or too much attention on the good things of the earth, we have no time for or interest in the higher things, in heavenly conversation, watching in expectation for a Word from above. In Proverbs, Lady Wisdom says, Blessed is the man that hears me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. [Pr 8:34] When we hear the smallest word from God our hearts are ignited with love, and we ascend!
Peter speaks about loving others as key. Above all things keep loving one another earnestly: for love covers a multitude of sins … It is other peoples’ sins that we are to cover with love – by letting them go, forgiving them, and if they must be spoken of, speaking of them, then moving on, getting over them. Have we forgiven everyone? Holding grudges restrains God’s love in us, holds us down, keep us from rising up. Forgive, and we are no longer bound, we ascend!
Peter tells us another way to love others, Use hospitality one to another without grudging … We can allow love to lift us, by simple acts of offering food, coffee or tea, being hospitable – giving others simple pleasures. If we are concerned about how it is received or what it costs us in time or money, we might be disappointed, but if we do it out of love for God without grudging, we ascend!
Peter summarizes how we’re to love, As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. God wants us to recognize the spiritual gift he’s given us and then to use that gift. We cannot exercise a gift that we do not have. But we become witnesses to Jesus in using the gift He has given us and using it by the strength that he supplies. As we use the gift we ascend!
3 How can we be captured more fully by Love, that we might ascend with Jesus?
Jesus told the disciples to wait in prayer in Jerusalem for the Helper – and then they would be witnesses to Him [St John 15:26-16:4].
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness…”
For the disciples these ten days between his Ascent and Pentecost were a time when they were uncertain what would happen next. They were powerless, loving Jesus, but with a feeble human love, not yet filled with His love, they had not yet received the Gift from above. Like Elisha, keeping his eye on Elijah when he ascended, and then receiving his mantle, and a double share of his spirit, so did the disciples wait, with their minds fixed on Jesus, waiting for the pouring out of His Spirit.
The disciples gathered with one another. They recalled the promises of our Lord. They waited, sometimes rejoicing in the Temple in thanksgiving for the things they had seen, and waiting in prayer and fellowship for the descent of the Dove, for the fiery flames to enkindle their hearts.
In moments where we feel powerless, easily annoyed, uninspired, lacking imagination, our hearts cool, not knowing how we might be ministers of Jesus let us remember always this example of the disciples.
We are in fact doing some of these things here this morning:
- Reading the stories of Jesus stirs up our love for God.
- Gathering with other Christians, in His Name, stirs up our love for God.
- Singing songs of praise and thanksgiving for what Jesus has done, following His commands, showing hospitality to others, stirs up our love.
- Forgiving others, removes the blockages to the flame of love.
- Being self-controlled to guard our prayer life, and in prayer waiting daily, expectantly, for some word of wisdom inwardly, to set us on fire.
We are promised that our Beloved Lord in heaven will respond if we wait in a holy expectation!
Jesus is looking upon us here this morning, ready to send on us more power from above. He is inviting us to confess our sins and be perfectly forgiven, to receive His Body and Blood given to assure us and strengthen us, to renew our faith, restore our hope, and most of all, rekindle the flames of holy charity, of love, His Love, filling our hearts. This is how we ascend even now to dwell with Jesus in the heavenly places.