Jesus Christ is risen today . . . Now what?
The strife is o'er, the battle won . . . Now what?
He is risen, he is risen . . . Now what?
Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season. Jesus ascended to heaven this past Thursday and we and the disciples are left wondering, “Now what?” I think that when we answer that question we often get it wrong. Or maybe it's that we ask the wrong question. We get so caught up in proclaiming Jesus as Lord, hailing the power of his name, and celebrating his victory in his battle over death that we want to know when he's going to come back and finish the job. We're a lot like the disciples that way.
The resurrected Christ appears to Mary, the ten, Thomas, on the road to Emmaus, on the shore cooking fish and in a variety of other ways and places. And now the disciples are all gathered in Jerusalem with Jesus waiting for what comes next. And in their minds, Jesus as king should be the next logical step.
So they ask Jesus, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
It's the wrong question because it's focused on trying to reclaim the greatness of ages past. It's the wrong question because it's still focused on the way we used to do things. It's the wrong question because it's still looking back at what used to be. But God and Jesus (and Neil Diamond for that matter) aren't concerned with used-to-be's.
All through Scripture we hear that God is doing a new thing. The psalmist sings that God put a new song in his mouth. “Sing to the Lord a new song,” is heard more than once. Isaiah speaks of new things and new songs, a new heaven and a new earth. Jeremiah talks of a new covenant. Ezekiel prophesies of a new heart. At the last supper, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment and a new practice. And in Revelation, John records that God is making all things new.
Jesus shuts down that question about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel with a terse, “It is not for you to know times or periods.” Rather than focusing on what was, how it used to be and when will things be like that again, Jesus gives them a new direction: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
And then he ascended to the Father.
“Um . . . what just happened? What did he say? How are we supposed to do this again? Do you know how this is supposed to work? Wait . . . what?”
While they were staring off into the heavens wondering what came next, two angels appeared to them and said, “Dudes . . . No loitering. Get a move on.” Or something like that. And I think it was at that moment when everything from the past three years, and everything from the Passion in particular, came into focus.
The new and radical way Jesus included sinners, outcasts and all those barred from participating in proper society into the kingdom of God; the new covenant of Communion; the new commandment to love others as he loved us; and his prayer of protection while they remain in the world after his departure all point to NEW. Inclusion was new. Holy Communion was new. Loving others wasn't new, but it got a new expression through Jesus. And leaving this world in our care for the benefit of God's kingdom also seemed new.
Let me say that last one again: Jesus prayed for our protection as he left this world to our care for the benefit of the kingdom of God.
At the Ascension, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Jesus no longer has a part in this ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God, it's all up to us. This may have seemed like a new thing to the disciples. It may seem like a new thing to you. It may seem like a new thing, but it really isn't. It goes all the way back to Genesis 12:3 when God tells Abram, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
But that way of doing things, that way of working to bless the families of the earth, faded over time as people got settled in their ways. Over time, God continually called his people to do a new thing, but we humans don't necessarily like doing new things. We don't necessarily like change. So God did a new thing in the Incarnation and being present with us in the person of Jesus Christ.
On the day of the Ascension, and today for us, we are once again reminded of Genesis 12:3. We are reminded that through us all families will be blessed. It may not have worked out so well the first time, so today we get a new way to look at this. Today we hear again that our mentor is no longer with us and it is now up to us to bless all the families of the world – beginning here and moving out to the ends of the earth.
This blessing of the families comes from God, but it goes through us. We are the people who are to be the witnesses of the Good News of God in Christ. We are the people who are to proclaim to those around us that the kingdom of God has come near.
For the disciples who had spent three years listening and watching Jesus do just that, this was a new thing. For us who may have spent years listening and watching other people make proclamations about God and Jesus, whether or not we agree with them, this might be a new thing.
Jesus has ascended to the Father. Now what? Now is the time to stop gazing up to heaven idly waiting for Jesus to return. Now is the time to stop waiting for the glory days of yesteryear. Now is the time to stop pining away for the way things used to be. Now is the time to stop loitering.
Jesus has ascended to the Father. Now what? Now is the time to be Christ’s witnesses. Now is the time to proclaim that the kingdom of God is very near. Now is the time to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
Now is the time. Amen.
Sunday, June 01, 2014
Jesus Christ is risen today . . . Now what?
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