15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I 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, 18so 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, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according in the working of his great power. 20God 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, 21far 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. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 22which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Sprit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
6So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He replied, it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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." 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Oh how I wish we could revel in Easter's joy forever. All I want are grand hymns, brassy fanfares, energetic worship, and pews full of smiling faces, wouldn't it be lovely. Lots of children hunting for eggs around our sanctuary, luncheons where all could share a meal and grow closer to one another, warm hearts and welcomes for all who pass through our doors. Wouldn't it be lovely.
We could have the risen Christ appearing with us, I bet our church would really grow then. He could present "himself alive by many convincing proofs..." We've got an couple of extra desks upstairs, Jesus could keep office hours! I don't know about y'all but I would never budge until the kingdom of heaven tripped over our window sill.
Oh how I wish we could revel in Easter's joy forever. Wouldn't it be lovely. But the story moves on. "God is the author who makes the story possible and whose nature and purposes are revealed in the telling of this story.” Those purposes do not stop in Jerusalem, or with the earthly ministry of Jesus. God is not through with this little band of disciples, or with the world in which they live, in which we also live.
The Easter joy, the convincing proofs of the bodily resurrection, have their chapter in the ongoing story of God’s relationship with his people, but there is more work to be done. The world has been redeemed through the dying and rising of Christ the Lord, but it is not until we have heard that good news that we know that we are free from the power of sin and death.
This story continues all around us, God continues to create, redeem, and sustain. But the church is charged with a story, the Gospel. That story in ever in front of us “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” We are commanded to love and called to hope. On the back end of Easter’s joy, Ascension Sunday, “We are taught that we are partakers of the gifts of God through hope...which is grounded on the promise of God.”
Christian hope is not the same as optimism. Putting on a happy face is not enough to cross over the scars of this broken world. Christian hope is a conduit of grace. We are not defined by our struggles or failures. We are not defined by our fear or traumas. We are defined by the promises of God, by our part in this ongoing narrative that beings in scripture and extends into the lives of the disciples who gather in this place week after week.
Jesus made sure to keep the disciples together in the days after his resurrection. “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” They were part of an ongoing story, and the transition would be difficult to negotiate alone. ”There were commanded to stay together, because they should all have one Spirit given them. If they had been dispersed, the unity should not have been so well known.” What they had seen had changed how they understood God, but they needed one another to help understand the new things God was continuing to do in their midst. They needed each other’s encouragement to hold on to the hope of the gospel, and to practice trusting that hope even when our Lord is not physically present.
It would be lovely to spend all our days in the joy of Easter morning, but there’s work to do. It would be lovely to gaze endlessly into heaven as we await the coming kingdom. But God did not give us hope so that we could throw it to heaven, but so that when we face the tumult and strife of this world, we would be able to sing praise anyway.
Scripture has a tradition called “Wisdom Literature” in it. Think Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. The basic idea is that we can learn about God by observing the world that God created and ordered. We can indirectly see God at work by paying attention to the world around us. Wisdom literature teaches us that the world is orderly and predictable, and that God is present in creation. What happens in the world matters, and God gives us the wisdom to see and understand it.
The author of Ephesians prays “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,” We are given a spirit of wisdom, and revelation. We have to watch the world, because God is still acting in it and we are following him. Yet we have also seen that there is more than what we can see directly. Christian hope lives in the conversation between watching the world and revealing the God who is just beyond what we can see.
At the ascension, “[The disciples] were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” That first band of followers also had work to do. They had a gospel to spread in a fearful world. You can’t speak to those who are stuck in the mud if your head is in the clouds. Christian hope looks at the world as it is, and sees also the Lord who has ascended in to heaven to reign over all creation.
There’s a lot of reasons to be afraid, there are a lot of opportunities to fail, there are a lot of sources of emotional pain, there are a lot of struggles that lay before this particular community of faith.
And yet our hope remains. Each of us are upheld by a community that continues to love us, when our own hope slips, the hope within this family of faith is a conduit of grace, reminding us of wisdom’s revelation: we have seen the Lord. The joy of Easter changes form, but the grace we have been given never runs out. We proclaim to one another, and to the world, that we hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails the new creation. We do not know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority, but we do know that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and ascended to rule all that exists, even this broken world, and these hopeful sinners.
We're in the midst of an ongoing story. The expectations that rest on us due to our position in this story are beyond us. Witnesses from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth? Faith and love and wisdom and revelation and hope? It's immeasurably difficult. Even though we are forgiven and redeemed from the moment of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, we are still sinners. We are still limited by the state into which each of us was born. "The action demanded of the church is more than busyness and strenuous human effort... Some other empowerment is needed. Therefore the church waits and prays.” This Christian hope thing is difficult. This spreading the gospel thing is hard.
But our story is ongoing, and the Holy Spirit is on its way to give us the wisdom, to discern God’s will as a community, the revelation to to proclaim the gospel in the midst of bad news, and the hope to sing praise to God in a world that still needs to hear it.