(Acts 1:3-91; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11) J G White
Ascension Sunday, May 28, 2017, UBC Digby
Is Jesus with us… or not? Present, or absent?
That’s not really a simple yes or no question.
Next month, here in Digby, there is a tribute to the king… but I don’t mean Jesus. I mean Elvis Presley, and the Thane Dunn show. The King of Rock and Roll is arguably as big a phenomena now as before he died in 1977. The show must go on. Is the music of Elvis, and performances, better now, since he’s dead, than it would be if he was still alive, at age 82? There’s no way to know.
What about the King of kings, Jesus the Christ? Is he with us, or not. Today we mark the Ascension of Jesus – His going up to the heavens forty days after His rising from death. Even Jesus has left the building! Yet we keep saying He is here, He lives in us, in our hearts. We keep on with: “What a friend we have in Jesus.” He said, “Lo, I am with you always…”
John tells us that Jesus also promised, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7
One way that is God is present leaves, so another will arrive and stay. It so happens to be ten days later that the Holy Spirit appears in a big way, the Day of Pentecost. That’s for next Sunday.
Today, we are in this gap, when Jesus is gone. When we wait.
Do you tend to find Jesus in your life as the presence of God, or an absence? Many of us have ups and downs, both. Of course, Jesus being alive but gone is different from my grandmother being alive but gone. She died in 1979. I don’t ever doubt that Nana was a real person on earth, or that she does not go on living elsewhere, by God’s grace. Jesus, on the other hand, can be doubted.
The absence of God is an ongoing experience of so many people. Those first disciples, waiting and wondering, for ten days after Jesus leaves them for good – how did they feel?
Like the closeness we feel to a dead beloved one… so is our closeness with Jesus who left us. When someone is absent from our lives, they often loom large. We are so aware, so affected by those who left, when they are gone. We sometimes want to know their influence continues, almost like a guardian angel near us, watching over us, giving us signals. And absence makes the heart grow fonder.
So too with Jesus at a distance. There is still a spiritual connection, a connection of the heart. The Holy Spirit is a living reminder of that other, human part of God. A ‘oneness’ continues – even grows, with Christ.
What is the advantage of the Ascension? There are many. There are gifts God gives by taking Jesus away… for two thousand years, now. The ‘presents’ of the absence of Jesus are many:
God does not get located on earth just in one place – in one person. Not just in one culture, ethnicity, language. Stained glass in Isle de la Madeleine Church…
Jesus’ ‘teaching’ is available to all, and forever.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13
The guiding hand is now global, not local.
There can be a commonality of human experience with God. It is no longer we who met Him in the flesh and those who did not meet Him. All, around the world, can meet Christ, without Him being in the flesh.
The pain of loss draws us deeper into ourselves and our God. There will be suffering, after all, because of following Christ. 1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
The need and longing for the Divine and for a Saviour is fertile soil for the soul to grow. I keep being drawn to these kinds of Bible phrases:
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek. Psalm 27:8
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. Psalm 42:1
Jesus said… “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35
We seek and find real soul food when we are hungry for God.
The unanswered questions, the doubts and fears, the uncertainty of faith draw us onward, draw us together, draw us into the Holy One.
Conversation and sharing about the lack of ‘God’ is a point of contact with others. It is seldom going to be our job as evangelists to start with “I’ve got Jesus, and you don’t.” Where God seems missing is an important starting point with an atheist, with a person who has given up on Church, with a person deeply suffering or traumatized. Or with a happy believer. “Where was God? Where is God?” The perennial question we ask. The Holy One draws us together with this. And meets us there.
So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. (1 Peter 5:9-11 Msg)