It’s best if you let God do all the stage directing. . . trust me, it’s just better . . .
When I was in parish ministry, the Seventh Sunday of Easter always meant a look into The Feast of the Ascension. I could never get folks out on a Thursday, but on the following Sunday the nave was full. So I’ll concentrate this week on the mysterious story of the disciples looking up to the sky as Jesus seems to do a disappearing act into the clouds.
The Ascension, for me, is one of those feasts on the Church Calendar that reminds me that God doesn’t generally do things the way I would. Christmas is another.
I know what God was trying to accomplish on that first Christmas, but I would have recommended a few changes, had I been asked. I would have written a different screenplay. I would not have chosen, for example, to have God’s Christ . . . the Anointed One . . . The Second Person of the Holy Trinity . . . born in a feeding tub for beasts of burden somewhere in the obscure and little town of Bethlehem. Honestly, would that have been your first choice? It wouldn’t have been mine.
Now I could understand what God was trying to do. I understand God’s desire to have the Messiah born as one of us. That’s a lovely image, one that will go over very well with people.
But why go to such extremes . . . why a manger and a stable? Why not a modest middle class flat somewhere in uptown Jerusalem? Even, a two bedroom one bath would suffice for the time being.
But God wouldn’t have liked that idea, I’m afraid. I can hear God now: I want the whole world to know that my Kingdom extends all the way to the least, the lost, the last and the little.
O.K., so let’s move on to Christ’s life and teachings? I would have a few suggestions here too. Firstly, gentle and loving might not sell well much of the time; it just isn’t sensational enough. People like great displays of power. Especially when there is so much hate going around, so I would suggest getting rid of the woven cloak and sandals and move to the red cape and blue tights look.
Under my plan, most of the time, Jesus would look like everybody else, but all he would have to do is duck into the cloak closet at the local synagogue and whoosh . . . Super Jesus, complete with x-ray vision and the ability to leap over the Temple in a single bound.
If only God had let me design the sets and write the scripts. I’d also have Jesus do a little less talking about how God accepts and forgives everyone. I’d have fewer press releases about Jesus growing tired and hungry and a little less about Jesus eating and socializing with outcasts and rejects. That stuff just isn’t popular.
I would have suggested that God add a lot more of those really BIG miracles! Especially the Cecil B. Demille stilling of the storm kind of miracles. Instead of Jesus having to figure everything out like we do, I would set it up so that he would have an open channel to God. . . something like a permanently connected WiFi Connection to heaven complete with e-mail and instant messages.
But alas, God would have thrown out my version here too. God would say something like, No . . . Jesus’ struggle must be your struggle . . . miracles aren’t there to entertain and to show power from outside the world, but to point to the fact that the Kingdom is here and now, and is present in Christ and in my people . . .
Miracles need only be big enough to act as little windows through which one can peek and see the reign of God right where they live their lives.
Can we trust that God has the better plan?
O.K. I’m not going to let a little rejection slow me down, so let’s move on to the part about Jesus dying and rising . . . I would recommend scrapping the whole thing . . .
Why have the Messiah die? It seems counterproductive to me. After all, only Kryptonite can hurt Superman, and it’s not readily available on our planet.
When they stick their spears in Jesus, they should just bend and break . . . our man of steel should just be able to take a deep breath and blow a wind that would knock over the entire Roman legion in a matter of seconds . . .
I mean dying and rising is pretty sensational, but resurrection WITHOUT dying now that’s spectacular, assuming it’s possible.
But I guess that even I can see the inadequacy of such wishful thinking. Jesus must face all the risks in life because love is always risky. The kingdom in which we live is a series of deaths and resurrections . . . You can’t forgive unless the record keeper in you drops dead, and you can’t fully love unless the judge in you kicks the bucket.
Can we trust that God has the better plan?
Jesus was born in lowly estate, taught love without force, ate with sinners and rejects, forgave those whom nobody else could bring themselves to forgive. He was as human as you and me, and he died a horrible death in humiliation on the Cross.
Fortunately, we have the Resurrection or the whole thing up to this point would have been a box office disaster. But now we come to the final act in the messianic drama . . . How would you write the final scene of the Gospel?
That’s what we celebrate this week. We celebrate Ascension Sunday. The day when Christ seems to disappear into heaven.
I would have recommended against the Ascension. How about you?
After a few appearances to his disciples. Instead of the Ascension, I would have suggested taking Christ on the road. I would want to get the Resurrected Savior on Oprah or an interview with Letterman. But having Christ Ascend, that doesn’t seem to leave much room for a sequel does it?
My dear friends let’s face it, for many of us, the Ascension isn’t even in the top ten of our favorite feasts. Did you buy an Ascension card for someone this week? I didn’t think so.
We don’t like departures, and we don’t like Good-byes, but can we trust that God’s has the better plan?
You see, the Ascension isn’t really about Christ leaving, it’s about Christ being ever-present – everywhere and all the time. The Ascension isn’t about good-byes, it’s about an astounding new way to say hello to the divine in our lives.
Archbishop William Temple once said of the Ascension, In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, only those could speak to him who came where he was. If he was in Galilee, people could not find him in Jerusalem; if he was in Jerusalem, people could not find him Galilee. But the Ascension means that Christ is perfectly united with God. We are with Christ wherever we are present to God, and this is everywhere and always.
The Ascension is simply another way of saying the Risen Christ was crowned and made sovereign over all that is. This means that because of the Ascension, we know for sure that the Kingdom of God really is at hand . . . it really is within us . . . it really is here and now!
I don’t know if you have ever considered this, but they don’t crown kings unless they have a kingdom. They don’t crown kings and then say, well some day we’ll get you a kingdom . . . in the meantime, just sit here on your throne and be patient.
The Ascension means that God has been able to accomplish what we have wanted since the creation of the world, namely, the joining together of Divinity and Humanity for eternity; they are now completely intertwined in a tangle of love such that they are almost indistinguishable!
The Christ of the Ascension still has nail holes in his hands and feet. The Christ of the Ascension still has a gash in his side and cuts on his head and bruises on his body from the execution of Good Friday. The Christ of the Ascension brings all of our humanness, all of who we are, and presents it to the God of Love who has long ago declared it to be GOOD!
The Ascension is the projection of Christmas run in reverse! At Christmas Heaven came to Earth, on the Ascension earth came to heaven . . . and the joining is complete!
God’s version of Christmas made it certain that the kingdom was to extend all the way to the least, the lost, the last and the little, and they have a place at the right hand of God for eternity.
Christ didn’t really ascend out of sight . . . Christ ascended into plain view! Christ Ascended to that place where God enjoys living the most. Christ ascended into each of us!
Even though it’s not the way I would have written it, I have to confess that I like God’s version much better.