First Congregational Church
June 1, 2014
Seventh Sunday after Easter
Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11
“The Segue of The Ascension”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
According to my research, nearly a third of the American population watches the television program, Jeopardy. I figured that most folks here might be familiar with the program, so if I would throw out an answer, you all could “play together” and come up with the answer.
Answer one, for no money: Filet of sole. (P) What was Jesus’ favorite kind of fish? Answer two: She wasn’t Merry (Mary). (P) How did Martha feel about doing all the housework by herself? The last answer for today: The Prodigal Son. (P) Who was the most famous baseball player in the Bible because he made a home run?
Going back to the old fashioned method of question, then answer, I wondered why the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were put into that order. Why not Mark, John, Luke and Matthew or any of the other fourteen possible combinations? The answer is not so clear-cut, but the most likely answer is that the early Christians probably thought that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John reflected what they thought was the chronological order of their composition. It’s a little too bad, because Luke’s ending is the perfect segue into the book of Acts.
Just before our passage in Luke, Jesus’ empty tomb had been discovered and later that day, a couple of disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus when Jesus “met” them - or “appeared” to them. As they walked along, Jesus gave them a refresher course on the Old Testament passages that pointed to himself as Messiah, when it got late. The two asked “the stranger” to stay with them, and at dinner, Jesus broke bread in that familiar way that they recognized as being Jesus, and then he “disappeared.” The two went back to Jerusalem, just four miles away, to tell the rest of the disciples what had happened. As they are discussing all this, Jesus “pops in” again, and as they are chatting, he asks for a piece of fish - perhaps sole.
Luke 24:44-53 NIV
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Acts 1:1-11 NIV
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Thank you, Ann and Missi. Wikipedia says that a segue is a smooth transition from one topic or section to the next, often taking place between pieces of music. Our two passages are a perfect example of a segue - especially because the two passages were written to Theophilus. There is no complete consensus on good ol’ Theo, but what matters is that the writer of Luke and Acts is most likely the same person, and it’s not often we get to lay two pieces of scripture on top of each other and have them make such sense. (By the way, in the literary world, that last sentence was a douser of a segue.)
These two passages help paint the scene that after Jesus rose from the dead, he was hanging out with the disciples for forty days, popping in and out of their presence at various times. But there was something about his last appearance, about his being “taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud” hiding him from their sight, and then two dudes decked in white appearing, that was different. And if it was different, what are the implications?
A lot of us “get” Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, when the Holy Spirit came over the crowd in Jerusalem, inaugurating the birth day of the church. But this Ascension piece isn’t so well known, much to our loss. Because it took place on the fortieth day after Easter, Ascension Day always fall on a Thursday, as it did this past week. And perhaps it is because it doesn’t land on a Sunday and we don’t get presents, that this important day gets overlooked.
Without the Ascension, we might still be looking for Jesus to pop in on us, which would be really nifty, but probably mentally and spiritually exhausting. We might not ever get past the “expectant looking around” to the glorious joy of living in God’s Spirit. Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he would be in one place on earth, but not spiritually present everywhere, as now. Being back with God gives a “completion” that pertains to all of us - dust to dust, from God and back to God.
Because all the disciples were together to see his Ascension, there were no “doubters” left, and so in succession, helping us in our grasp onto Christ’s return to eternity. In seeing this departure of Jesus - that was different from the others - the “ministry” was now passed on - segued - to the disciples - and ultimately us.
So today we get to share in breaking the bread, in that “sense” of familiarity and comfort - with each other. Being together, with the smell of the cup and the bread, aware of those next to us in the pews, we are reminded that we are not alone, that all is right with God and Christ and the Holy Spirit, and just for a while, we can rest in that certainty, just like our favorite chair. So let us put down our burdens, our worries, our cares as we prepare our hearts to have dinner, a la Jesus style.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.