Ascension Sunday

I used to have a piece of furniture, when I was an undergraduate living in college dorms, that made me shine with reflected greatness. In truth it was a tatty, worm-ridden, ugly thing—kind of a small cabinet on long shaky legs—but so grungy that I can’t remember now what I used to dare to put in it. It even had a name—so strange and impractical was it to look at that a friend of mine christened it a mongo-pod. But its name wasn’t the essential thing—its heritage was. My mongo pod had once been the property of Benazir Bhutto when she was a student at the same school. Now this was in the days when she was only a child of greatness, before she made her own pass at Pakistani politics, her own ambiguous turn on the world stage.
But every now and again, bleary-eyed in a morning, or over-caffeinated at night, my mongo pod would catch my eye and a wider world than my own would offer itself, however briefly or vicariously, and … and what?
Now that’s the question. What? To be honest I haven’t thought about that mangy piece of woodwork for years and, even then, I never saw myself turning up at some palace in Pakistan like a long lost furniture-friend. But to this day my mongo pod remains the closest I’ve been to having friends in high places—my nearest approach to power.
Apart from today. Apart from Ascension!
It’s not so much the going of Jesus that matters to our story-tellers today but where he is going. This Jesus, this guy from Nazareth, yes, we knew that he was like a son to God and, yes, we knew that God didn’t let him rot but gave him new life, but this? Who’d have thought that this … this man … who we’ve rubbed shoulders with, who we’ve laughed around the fire with, who we’ve wept over, who was so bleary-eyed in the mornings, so over-excited at night … him. He turns out to be … what? Ruler of all things? Lord of the cosmic laws? Wisdom of creation? “Far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion and every name that is named.” Right hand man to God.
We knew he was powerful. But we knew him broken too. We saw him heal the sick. We saw him rage against indifference. We saw him exhausted. We saw him dead and we saw him alive again and eating fish. But this? No wonder we are standing here looking up at the sky! We have an un-looked-for friend in high places.
We, that’s you and I, we have a friend in high places. We have an approach to real power. And we have more than a mongo pod to prove it—we have God’s own breath, God’s own spirit, as pledge of the power that holds the cosmos in being.
Listen again to the readings. “In a few days you will be drenched with Holy Spirit.” “You will receive power when Holy Spirit comes upon you.” “The same power which worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.” And whatever you think about those signs and wonders it is certain that the friends of Jesus will not shrink from power—”you will drive out demons, you will speak new languages, you will handle serpents with your bare hands, you will be proof against poison, you will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” Our society sure has its demons. The corridors of power slither with serpentine subtlety. Our consumer culture poisons itself and every created thing. And the victims of our success lie sick all around the world. Our mission should we choose to accept it—drive out the demon, handle the serpent, purify the poison, and heal with our own hands what seems to be dying. And, while we are at it, shape an unknown language to speak with authority to those who would not hear.

My mongo pod usually caught my eye when I was wrestling with yet another midnight paper—”essay crises” we used to call them. And the promise was always of a wider world than transition-metal chemistry. A world just out there. Just through those windows. Where people lived and died and made a difference.
As Mark tells it Jesus never says goodbye to his friends and followers. He just gives them a little job to do. “Go into the whole cosmos and proclaim good news to every created thing.” Luke is the one who supplies the wherewithal. “You will receive power when Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
Well, you and I have friends in high places. We have the power. What are we going to do with it?