Ascension Sunday does not get the credibility it deserves. Ancient Christians were right to lift up this up as important. It is the culmination and conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But it also feels like an unfinished ending. Jesus rose from the dead, but there is still a lot of kingdom building work to be done. Elijah ascended into heaven with Elisha as his successor. The other prophets declare “The spirit of Elijah is on Elisha!” Jesus ascends having commissioned and blessed his successors–the disciples. ‘The spirit of Jesus is on his disciples.’ I guess that can’t be yet said at this point in the story. They have to wait for the Holy Spirit to get there. But it also seems like they get a foretaste: for they return to Jerusalem “with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple blessing God”.
Ascension Sunday can be thought of as conjoined to Pentecost. The church calendar follows the biblical example (Luke’s at least) and puts these two events in close proximity. Jesus ascends as he is blessing the disciples, Jesus’ benediction is a precursor to the blessing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
I have been thinking of the Invitation to Discipleship moment in our United Methodist liturgy. It’s position in the sample liturgy in the hymnal is as a response to the word. In a discussion during a clergy meeting a few years ago, colleagues talked about altar calls and our comfort/discomfort with them. I’m trying to take a more broad understanding of this invitation. I like the softness of the word ‘invitation’. I disdain “pressure-cooker” evangelism. The invitation to discipleship must follow the full spectrum of discipleship: from initial commitment to Christ to renewals of faith to moving on to perfection. Clearly not everyone in the pews are at the same stage in the process. Over time the invitation must be issued to all, challenge the newbies as well as the veterans, must be regular and varied. It should include the commitment to Christ as well as the challenge to serve him.
For tis Sunday I am considering a direct plea…something new for me. It will most likely be shaped around Jesus’ pronouncement “You are witnesses of these things”. As such, the invitation is to current followers-to consider what you have witnessed and commit yourself to sharing what you have witnessed.
I love how this story ends on a cliff-hanger. I also love how it parallels the ascension of Elijah. The ending tension must be addressed by someone. The Lord needs Elishas-people who will pick up the mantle and continue the work of Christ. I suspect that there are a few Elishas in the pews just waiting to be invited.
Page One is the first page I write for the sermon–one page, long-form, stream of consciousness. It does not go in the sermon, it is a simple practice whereby I just write reflecting on what I have encountered thus far in the sermon-preparation process.