June 2, 2019

“Ascension”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Ephesians 1.15-23

Luke 24.44-53

June 2, 2019

Thursday was the Feast of Ascension, but since we didn’t have worship on Thursday, I thought we would celebrate today! On that day we celebrate Jesus being lifted into the heavens to unite with God. You might say it was an “uplifting experience.” It could be that the disciples were on an “emotional high.”[1] So much was happening to the disciples at the time that it might have “clouded” their judgment.

We hear the ascension story as told in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is repeating himself to the disciples, because we can all use a little repetition to remember. Jesus had to do this often because the disciples did not always comprehend what he was saying. He “opened their minds” to help them understand. What was the meaning of this knowledge? We will talk more about knowing when we discuss Ephesians. For now, Jesus is giving them this closing speech – it is his way of saying goodbye. How we end something or say goodbye is just as important as how we begin. Think of the end of the school year, the end of a friendship, the end of a chapter in our lives – how we say goodbye can set the tone for the next chapter. Jesus does not allow this goodbye to carry on, perhaps because he knows the Spirit is on the way. He is leaving them with hope.

The scripture passage we read today states that Jesus “withdrew” from them. We might imagine that this is a verb of intention – that someone withdraws when they need space, or need to make space. In fact, some argue that Jesus did withdraw in order to create a space for the Spirit and the future of the church.[2] If Jesus had stayed forever, or even just a few more decades, we wouldn’t have the motivation for our calling. Why would we help people when we could just call on Jesus? Why would we be active in faith if we could just snap our fingers and have Jesus do it? There would be no room for the Spirit – which comes on Pentecost next week – which also spurs the beginning of the church. Sometimes we have to make space. The space is not always physical, either. At times we need silence to make space for sound – maybe someone telling us their story, or a bird chirping. We have to clear out the weeds for the flowers to grow. We must clear off our desk to create space for more paperwork. Maybe not that last one – but we do need to clear space so that we can see and hear the world around us more clearly. Like a dish of food that has too many spices, sometimes we need just one spice to fully appreciate the robust taste.

Space is important. Sabbath is considered a space – an intentional space – carved out for God. We often need to clear out the busyness of our lives to create that space for God. We take off the month of July from session and committee meetings. Today is the first Sunday in June. I think to make that commitment we have to plan a month early. Our calendars easily fill up. We say we will take off all meetings, and then let one meeting creep in, and then another, until we wonder where the summer went. So, I challenge you to take that seriously and not have meetings. Or, maybe, if you aren’t on a committee or session, you take a break from something else. What is it you will make space from in order to create space with God?

The story of Jesus keeps unfolding before us: his birth, his preaching, his teaching, his healing, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Even today we see it unfolding. Knowledge is unfolded in both the Gospel and the Ephesians passage.[3] In Ephesians Paul is excitedly writing to the people to encourage them. He speaks of the wisdom and enlightenment of the people, experienced through Christ. As a group of Presbyterians and educators, we are all about knowledge. We love to learn more! We also know that knowledge is more than just intellect. Knowledge is revealed to us through our experiences. We can “know” something without being able to prove it necessarily.[4] Maybe our faith is like that. Sometimes we have experiences we simply cannot explain, but we know it in our hearts, or our bodies, or our senses.

At the Summer Institute of Theology and Disability I attended I heard many PhD students present their studies. Laura MacGregor, one of those students, talked about the interconnection of mothers and their children, especially those with severe caregiving needs.[5] MacGregor spoke with women whose children needed a full-time caregiver, and those mothers were with their children most of the day. The women told stories about how they could intuit when their children were sick, or something was wrong, but it couldn’t necessarily be explained by science. We’ve all heard of a mother’s intuition, but this seemed to be more than that. Many times, the women explained that they would sense something was wrong with their children, but when they took the child to the ER no signs would appear – no signs of distress, no fever, no disruption in heartbeat or oxygen levels. The ER would send them home, and in a matter of hours, the children would be in distress, rushed back to the ER, and admitted to the hospital.

This is an embodied knowledge. It was not a knowledge that came from their child verbalizing an upset stomach. It was not a knowledge that came from visually seeing a temperature on a thermometer. This was not a knowledge that came from books. This was a bodily knowledge that could not be explained. I see this in the knowledge the Ephesians have, in the knowledge given to the disciples, and in our own faith lives. Jesus “opened their minds” to understand, but so much of the disciples’ learning was also experiential – touching of the hands, seeing Jesus eat fish after the resurrection. Knowledge goes beyond the mind.

MacGregor ended her presentation by talking about the Trinity, and wondering how the knowledge shared among the three entities of the Trinity were connected. This is a knowledge we cannot explain. We profess the Trinity to be three in one – of the same substance. How can we know this? Perhaps we even have to let go of some of the knowledge we “know” to make space for the faith we “know.” We fold and unfold, refold, and try again.

We are taught in our society to do more, to consume more, to have more. We work more and more, and our work is never done, especially in a hurting world. Yet, if we do not care for ourselves, we cannot help. Our world is often grasping for more and more. We are reminded at the end of this passage that we do not need to keep striving for bigger and better.[6] Paul writes: “the fullness of Christ who fills all in all.” He is referring to how Christ has put all authority under his feet – a reassurance that Christ is in control in the world. We are filled with Christ. We do not need to keep pushing ourselves until it hurts. We do not to keep consuming. You are enough. You are enough – because Christ loves you the way you are, and fills you with what you need. God made you, and loves you. Sometimes that is the “knowing” we have the hardest time accepting and understanding. We have to clear out the negativity of the world – the negative words and images and assumptions – to make space for the person God has made us to be.

So, where do you need to make space? Even Christ withdrew so that the Spirit could be present. Where do we need to make space? Know that you are enough. Know that Christ loves you. Know that knowledge is more than seeing, more than hearing, more than believing – it is embodied in our experiences with the living Christ – God embodied in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ – who came to earth to know human suffering firsthand – in the mind, spirit, and body of Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] David J. Schafler, “Ephesians 1.15-23” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 517.

[2] David S. Cunningham, “Luke 24.44-53” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 522.

[3] Willie James Jennings, “Ephesians 1.15-23” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 514.

[4] J. D. G. Dunn, “Ephesians 1.15-23” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 1169.

[5] Laura MacGregor, “Blurred Lines: Mothers’ Stories of Maternal-Child Interconnection,” at the Summer Institute of Theology and Disability, 2019.

[6] Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, “Ephesians 1.15-23” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 518.