Encouragement From The Word

An important weekend

This is an important weekend.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, yes.

It’s my wife’s birthday weekend, yes.  (Happy birthday, dear!)

But it’s also the weekend the church celebrates one of the most important, yet under-the-radar, events of the Christian year:  yesterday having been Ascension Day, this Sunday is the day when the church marks the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In many churches – including my own – it will get but a passing nod.  In many more churches it gets less than that.  But the celebration of the ascension of Jesus deserves our attention.  After all, as Tim Perry and Aaron Perry say in He Ascended Into Heaven (Paraclete, 2010), “Resurrection is the beginning of ascension; ascension is resurrection completed” (6), and, “The Ascension marks both the completion of the Son’s mission and the beginning of the mission of his followers – to bear witness to his triumph” (49).

Any doubt as to the veracity of the resurrection of Jesus was settled when he ascended into heaven.  And this, with the great commission, began the work of making disciples, baptizing and teaching.

So Ascension Sunday is a bit like Launch Day: it signifies a new beginning for the church, a new opportunity to commit to the work of making disciples.  If you haven’t been doing all you can to draw people to the Lord – thinking like a missionary, as I said last Sunday in my message – then consider this Sunday, Ascension Sunday, a chance for a fresh start.  And as Luke’s telling of the ascension hints, we don’t have to undertake that fresh start alone!

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8, NLT).

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Encouragement From The Word

The Long Weekend After Ascension Day

Most of us are looking forward to the long weekend that starts later today.  (In Nobleton, the Victoria Day weekend marks a special time as a community, when we celebrate on Monday with a parade through the streets of town, followed by a ‘fun fair’ at the community centre, and an amazing fireworks display in the evening.)  Everybody knows that it’s a long weekend.  But if I asked you what yesterday marked, would you know?

Many of you would know that yesterday was Ascension Day, the day marked by Christians to celebrate the time, forty days after the resurrection, when Jesus ascended into heaven.

Ascension Day is not the most popular feast on the church calendar, but it is an important day.  It underscores the importance of Jesus’ birth, teaching ministry, death, and resurrection.  Without the ascension of Jesus, who “sits at the right hand of the Father” according to the Apostles’ Creed, his role as our one true Intercessor would be missing.  Without the ascension of Jesus, the promised Holy Spirit would not have come to dwell within us as happened at Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended.

The disciples were baffled, of course, since they thought the resurrection was the end of the story, and that their ministry with the Lord would carry on as before the crucifixion.  But that was not God’s plan.  No, Jesus assured the disciples that God had another plan for kingdom ministry.  It would be done through them:  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8, NIV).

At this, Jesus was taken up into heaven, and his friends stood there, agape, staring up at the sky.  It took a couple of heavenly messengers to remind them of what Jesus had said, and to assure them that he would return, one day, as he had ascended.

With that, the book of Acts continues to retell the unfolding story of the life of the early church, beginning with the appointment of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the gathered believers.

That same commission, given to the first disciples, is given to disciples today, as well:   “you will be my witnesses.”  Ascension day reminds us that we are called to carry on the work of Christ in the world, sharing his truth and compassion with people locally (Jerusalem), in the region (Judea and Samaria), and all around the world (to the ends of the earth).

Ascension day reminds us that the mission of God in the world is ours to carry out, under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit.  That’s why I love the Nobleton tradition of celebrating Victoria Day as a community, because it allows me to be a witness for Jesus in our town.  And that’s a start.

What will you do this weekend, or next week, to be a witness of Jesus where you are?