As we pass through this time of Ascension-tide, the 10 days between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday, I think it is good to devote some time to reflect on what this experience of Christ ascendant over us and all things means.
I am struck by the powerful words of United Church of Christ theologian and preacher Walter Brueggemann, who writes in his Mandate To Difference:
“… the same Jesus who was known in the Gospel narrative is able to do on a cosmic scale what Jesus of Nazareth had done locally:
“He feeds the hungry multitude.
He touches lepers and they are healed.
He welcomes children who are vulnerable.
He enjoys the company of those disapproved of by proper society…
“We may confess the creed: ‘He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right of God the Father. ‘ But we may do more than confess. We may move our life into coherence with the new rule of Jesus…
“[In light of Christ’s ascension over all of life] … our common practices of greed, of the pursuit of consumer goods, of the frantic efforts to acquire more, are both inappropriate and unnecessary…
“[the same Christ ascendant over all of life was the very] Jesus [who] went to great length to identity ‘sister and brother’ as everyone, including those most unlike us, those who do not fit, those who upset us and make us uncomfortable. What a gospel word in a society that is increasingly given over to exclusion, to hate, and to vengeance! There is an ideology at work among us that wants to make the world very small, in order to make it safe for us, and to exclude and eliminate everyone who is not like us…
“[Since the ascendance of Christ over all of life means] this is God’s world and … the rule of love is at work, then our mandate is not to draw into a cocoon of safety; rather it is to be out and alive in the world in concrete acts and policies whereby the fearful anxiety among us is dispatched and adversaries can be turned to allies and friends.”
We can imagine ascension as Christ seated “on a cloud of glory, keeping the world under caring surveillance” and from there that he has declared the following edict by press release, according to Brueggemann:
“The newly ascended power has decreed that there is more than enough, and greed iss inappropriate in a world of God’s generosity.
“Here is a new act of legislation from the government of God that says,
“Perfect love casts out hate, that we are not free for vengeance but must leave such matters to the wise Father.
“Here is an edict from the government that says,
“Do not fear for I am with you and the world will hold”
I find Brueggemann’s reflection of what this experiences the disciples and early believers re-tell — of Jesus ascendant over all of life and our world — means very compelling. I think if i wrote out my own version I would add the sense of Psalm 24 that we are reminded by it that the earth is God’s, the fullness thereof, and we are called to treat all of life as bearing the image of the Christ who rose, according to Ephesians, to fill all things with Christ’s presence. And thus, also, we must change our relationships with the land, air, water, soil, and other living things, learning to see the whole world as the temple of God — as well as our own and others’ bodies.
What experiences have led you, like the early believers both on Ascension Day itself and in the early days of the Jesus movement, to experience a sense that Christ is ascendant over all of your life and all the concerns of our world? In what ways does it inspire and challenge you?
Your progressive redneck preacher,