Lectio Divina - Sunday, May 28th, 2017
Sunday, May 28th, 2017
The Ascension of the Lord
Reading from Acts 1:1–11
Ephesians 1:17-23, Matthew 28:16-20
I. THE PREPARATION FOR THE CHRISTIAN MISSION
The Promise of the Spirit
1In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught2until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.3He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.4While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak;5for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”
The Ascension of Jesus
6When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.8 But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”9When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.10While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.11They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
The reading opens with our author making reference to his first book, the Gospel according to Luke, which is also dedicated to Theophilus, a man whose name translates as “a lover of God.” Luke joins the story himself in Acts 16:11, accompanying the apostle Paul when his ministry takes him to for the first time to Europe. Tradition tells us that Luke stays with Paul until the day of Paul’s martyrdom in Rome.
In this first reading we learn that Jesus remained with the apostles for forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. During these forty days he continued to teach the apostles to prepare them for the ministry they will begin after the Holy Spirit descends upon them at Pentecost. This forty-day timeframe is sufficient to bring to completion the teachings that will transform the world.
The number forty appears many times in the Bible. In most of these occurrences “forty” is understood figuratively rather than literally. For instance, various Bible passages speak of the Israelites wandering in the desert for “forty years,” but they were in the desert for thirty-eight (Deuteronomy 2:7, 14). The same is true for the reign of King David. King David is honored for his reign of forty years (2 Samuel 5:4-5), but the historical timeframe suggests it lasted thirty-eight. Moses lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in Midian before his call. Moses also went up on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights. The spies in the Book of Numbers were in the land for forty days, and Jesus was in the wilderness of temptation for forty days as well.
So the number forty is symbolic. Forty years allows enough time for something new to appear. Biblical marriage custom provides a good example. A young woman would be married by age 14 and a mother soon after that. By the time her parents are forty years old they will have grandchildren. The grandchildren are proof that something new has appeared and the family name will live on. Forty is a number that symbolizes hope.
Jesus used this forty-day period to teach his disciples about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God will be in conflict with kingdoms of the world. The kingdom of God will be revealed to the world through the church. The apostles need this time with Jesus to understand the purpose of his suffering and the power of that witness before they are sent out to proclaim the saving message of the gospel.
Jesus ascends into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Picture the scene and image yourself gazing heavenward as he rises into the clouds. The assembled disciples look intently skyward as Jesus disappears from their midst.
I like to imagine the angels who appear in the scene also have their necks craned and their gaze drawn toward the clouds. They join the others as they watch Jesus disappear in the cloudy mists. The angels do their job. They deliver a message from God. Their role as messengers has always been clear in the Gospel of Luke and now in the book of Acts. They inform the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way that they saw him depart.
This Sunday the church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension. It is the one time in the year when the physical site associated with the ascension of Jesus is open to the public free of charge. Thousands of believers will make their way to the Church of the Ascension to camp for twenty-four hours, spending their time celebrating the risen Lord and his ascension. They will practice looking into the heavens themselves. Give this a try yourself on Sunday. You will be uniting yourself with fellow believers in Israel and around the world.
Psalm 121 is a psalm of ascent, one in a collection of psalms prayed as pilgrims make their way up to Jerusalem, a city set among seven hills. The Mount of Olives is one of the seven. I invite you to pray with the psalmist:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.… The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:1–2, 8 NRSV)
This reading is dedicated to “Theophilus.” This Greek name can translate as “one who loves God” and reference a person, or as “those who love God” and refer to the church. Take a moment to consider both possible definitions. Which of the two resonates with you today? Are you known as someone who loves God? Is your church a place where the world sees “those who love God” and by extension one another?
The disciples are told to wait in Jerusalem until the promise of the Father is revealed by what will be known as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” They will wait for ten more days, until the feast of Pentecost. On that feast day they will see the fulfillment of this promise. Waiting is hard work. It takes courage and challenges the will. Still, we are called to wait. To have patience. To have hope. What does the Lord want you to wait for in your life? Pray that you have the patience to hold out until the Holy Spirit reveals his power to you from on high.