Ascension Sunday

There’s a strange thing going on with time in these readings. We start with the very beginning of St. Luke’s book about the life and ministry of the early Jesus movement and finish with the very end of St. Luke’s book about the life and ministry of Jesus in the flesh. Time is out of order. And here at the hinge we have a rush of events and a lull of waiting. Time is racing. Time is on hold.
Time is racing with Luke’s description of the forty days of intermittent presence of the risen Jesus and of the strange departure of their already elusive friend. Time is racing as Jesus promises his followers a great and energetic future moving out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth preaching and giving witness.
But time is on hold too as this same Jesus tells them to wait, to stay in the city and wait. And they do, no longer hiding behind closed doors in fear but constantly in the temple singing the praises of God.
It might seem a strange thing to be doing, given that they have just lost someone they loved. But it is only strange if you are mistaken about where he has gone.
The Church draws us each year into this mystery of disjointed time and absent presence. We, with our ancestors, the first followers, are waiting: Jesus has gone in the flesh and has not yet come in the Spirit. But only St Luke rubs it in – the other gospel writers don’t see the gap or don’t trust it. But Luke thinks it’s so important that he tells it twice and makes it the hinge on which his two-part story turns.
The risen Jesus has gone. The spirit has not yet come into the church. And yet the assembly prays. This is the first novena. The original. The nine days of joyful waiting. And they could be joyful because they didn’t feel that Jesus had gone the way dead people go, only to be present in memory, but that he had been lifted up and put in charge, in charge of everything.
I don’t know if any of you saw the last Oscar ceremony? There was a moment when James Cameron, riding high on the victory of his film Titanic, seemed to be about to be briefly humble and thankful and full of praise for others, but instead couldn’t resist stealing a line form one of his characters—”I’m king of the world” he shouted. It was embarrassing to watch. But it makes me wonder who is in charge. When we look around the world we have to wonder. With promise of peace in Ireland; with revolution in Indonesia; with deadly horror in Oregon; with nuclear bombs in India. Just who is in charge?
Bill Clinton? Bill Gates? Hardly! Frank Sinatra’s gone. And Godzilla’s only managed to be a blip on the screen.
St Luke says that Jesus is in charge. He has taken a throne in the heavens and now everything is his to put in order. He has taken the reins. And, though the Spirit has not yet come to bring the church to birth, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. The coming task of witness and ministry and justice is all still to be done—for them and two thousand years later for us—but, even before it begins, the victory is assured because Jesus has been raised from the dead and raised up to rule the world.
That’s why the prayer of the waiting community is so full of joy and the praise of God. Because we have a friend in the heavens. One who walked with us, wept with us, one of us has been raised above angels and principalities and powers. The lowly has been lifted up and mighty cast down.
It seems to me that the prayer of the waiting church, then and now, should be Mary’s own song of praise. I see her singing it for the gathered community in those days. Letting it’s words of praise now speak not just for herself but for her son and for all her son’s friends. God has looked with favour on our lowliness so that all times to come will call us blessed for the mighty one has done marvellous things for us. God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, dethroned the powerful, and lifted up the lowly. The hungry have found satisfaction and the rich discovered their own emptiness. God has promised the victory of Justice and the defeat of Death. And holy is God’s name.