THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

AscensionAs the church year rolls along, this week—May 25—we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord, the Messiah. Among the passages for the Ascension are Acts 1:1-11, the Psalms that speak of the Lord being King (Psalm 47 and 93), and the Gospel of Luke 24:44-53 and which says, “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (v. 51). We have to look at this close—He was carried up into Heaven.

We know that at His resurrection the Messiah was raised with a physical body; He ate physical food with them (Luke 24:40); They touched His physical body (John 20:17, Matthew 28:9, John 20:27). Yet, though He was physically raised in a real body, He could walk through walls (John 20:19-20). So, He was raised in his physical body—the same physical body that he had at the crucifixion—yet, while He was the same he was somewhat changed. And, at the Ascension this same—yet somewhat different—body ascended into Heaven: flesh and blood “was carried up into Heaven.”

            The belief of 1st Century, Second Temple Judaism was for a physical body resurrection—of course they expected this at the end of days, not in the middle of history as Jesus did. Looking at 2 Baruch 50:2 we see how the Jews expected the dead to rise, “For the earth will surely give back the dead at that time; it receives them now in order to keep them, not changing anything in their form. But as it has received them so it will give them back. And as I have delivered them to it so it will raise them.” Second Maccabees also addresses the resurrection, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.”  Second Temple Judaism did not look forward to some disembodied afterlife existence, but forward to a raised physical body—a resurrection of their physical body, flesh and blood just as Christ was raised!

Yet, Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot go to the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:50). We are faced with a dilemma: Christ went into Heaven physical bodily and Paul says flesh and blood cannot go into Heaven. The Jews looked toward a physical body resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven.

            While it looks as a contradiction, if we look at Paul’s words a bit closer we might see it a bit different. Paul’s usage if ‘flesh and blood’ has to be looked at as a figure of speech. Flesh and blood has to be looked at as an un-regenerated person—the unsaved, the person who still lives according to the flesh. At the resurrection the body will be animated by the Holy Spirit. It has to be remembered that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was resurrected (Romans 1:4). And it will be by the same power that the saved person will be resurrected—resurrected bodily in a flesh and blood body just as was the Christ. The “flesh and blood” then would be, a body not animated by the divine Spirit—an un-regenerated person. Jesus’ ascension was a body animated by the Spirit. 

            Jesus’ ascension was into the realm of God—into God’s space. And. This space of God intersects with our space—Heaven is where God is; and where God is intersects with where we are. And, as N. T. Wright put it, “The Jesus who has gone into [God’s dimension] is the human Jesus.” The “us” that will be resurrected is the human “us.” The ascension teaches us that while flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (the unsaved person—the person not animated by the Holy Spirit), flesh and blood will inherit the kingdom of Heaven—the saved person, the body animated by the Holy Spirit! As Wright put it, for Jesus to go into the heavenly dimension, is not for him to go up as a spaceman miles up into space somewhere, and not for him to be distant or absent now. It is for him to be present, but in the mode in which heaven is present to us. That is, it’s just through an invisible screen, but present and real.”

            Too often we look close at Easter and overlook the Ascension as we move towards Pentecost. Yet, the Ascension shows us who will inherit the kingdom of Heaven as well as in what form the they will be in at the resurrection. We too often see the ascension as Jesus leaving, yet he is always present with us. Are you animated by the Holy Spirit?

At the Ascension a bit of earth went to Heaven and at Pentecost a bit of Heaven came to earth.

Let us not overlook the Ascension!

Collect for the Ascension:

O Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ 
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: 
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his 
promise, he abideth with his Church on earth, even to the 
end of the ages; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who 
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in 
glory everlasting. Amen.

 In June, Theology From the Coast will begin a podcast on YouTube; more details will come soon.

Until Next Time May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You; All Y’all!

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Lectionarily Speaking: John 10:1-10

harryFor the 4th week of Easter we take a look at John 10: 1-10 (The Book of Common Prayer). Jesus launches into a beautiful metaphor for becoming a disciple of Christ. He starts by talking about sheep and shepherd. But, what Jesus is talking about is his followers and himself. Just last week my niece and myself rescued a 2-3 week old kitten—actually the story is my  niece actually rescued another kitten just a few days before but that’s another story all together. She went from having one cat to now being the proud owner of three cats garnering her the title of being a crazy cat lady. My niece spent the night up feeding him with an infant nasal bulb syringe. The next day we took him to the SPCA to see what to do, how to tend to him. One of the workers said she was bottle feeding a small cat at the time and she would take him and bottle feed him and when he was ready we could pick him up.

 

Today she went to get the first cat who is around 6 weeks old his first shots. And while there we were told that the little kitten was ready to go home as he was eating wet food. So the ride home was quite the adventure with two kittens—one 6 weeks and one between 4 and 5 weeks. As we returned to the house and had supper she fed the little tyke; after he had eaten she called him and he turned and walk to her. He remembered who it was that saved him. He walked not to my mama; he didn’t walk to me; he walked to the one that saved him. He walked to the first one with whom he had human contact. Though I found him I couldn’t reach him, but she could.

 

He remembered his master. He knew the one he was to follow and go to. And that is what Jesus is stressing in this week’s passage. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3b). Her older cat will run to her also when she calls his name, but if I call him—or even get close to him he will flee! Jesus continues, “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of stranger (John 10:5). True followers of the Messiah will follow him. When they hear the voice of another one trying to get them to follow they will flee. They know his voice and they will flee from the voice of a stranger!

Jesus is the door through which the sheep, his followers—Christians, are to enter. He reminds us that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But the Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10: 10). Just like the little kitten knew where he was granted life, and now he will have it abundantly, the sheep of the Messiah are to know that it is Jesus where we have life and have it abundantly. They know the voice of Christ, their shepherd; they will flee from a stranger; the thief comes to steal and destroy while the Christ came to give life. It is said that the sheep know the voice of their master. He can call them out of a group of sheep where not all of them are his but only his will come. They know where they are fed; they know where they are protected from the strangers and thieves. A kitten of only 4 weeks old knows the voice of the one who saved him. Why do we struggle so much knowing the one that saves us? When the thief comes, the one that destroys—the temptations of life, do we flee?

When we celebrate the Eucharist we come into contact with that good Shepherd whose voice has called us. He calls us from the bread which is body broken for us; he calls from the wine, which is the New Covenant in his blood. We come into the presence of the living, resurrected savior, the good Shepherd, who calls us, protects us from the strangers who come to destroy. If a sheep and a 4 week old kitten can do it why do we struggle?

The Psalm this week is Psalm 23. The Lord is our Shepherd. We are to hear his voice and follow. And when the thief comes—the one that destroys—he will prepare us a table in the midst of our enemies. When we come into the presence of the risen Lord and partake of his body and blood, we hear his voice and follow; allow him to keep you safe from the thief that you might have life in abundance

 

Until next time may the good Lord bless and keep you; all y’all!

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When In Rome (part1): Euangelion

ColosseumNight2More has been written about the book of Romans than possibly any book of the Bible—with the possible exception of Revelation. From Augustine to Luther the book has been credited with the turning around of lives.  And early one St. Paul makes known one of the main themes of the epistle: the gospel. The Greek word he uses is euangelion, which simply translates as good news. Paul makes it known that he was set apart for the Gospel, the Good news, the euangelion, of God. Over the years the gospel –especially in the modern western church, the euangelion, has been watered down to simply believe in Jesus and go to be with God when you die, a sort of fire insurance. And while that might be a part of its message, is that the good news, the euangelion, that Paul was proclaiming to the church in Rome?

            In 1st century usage, the euangelion meant something different than its modern usage. The good news was a proclamation. It was a proclamation that something had happened, and because that something had happened something else would happen. It could be the accession or birthday of a ruler or emperor.[1] When Nero ascended there would have been a proclamation of this good news—this euangelion. And the good news, the euangelion, that St. Paul is proclaiming to the church in Rome is that we have a new King—his name is Jesus. N. T. Wright asserts, “Jesus saw himself as a prophet announcing and inaugurating the kingdom of YHWH; he believed himself to be Israel’s true Messiah; he believed that the kingdom would be brought about by means of his own death at the hands of the pagans. He believed, that is, that the message of the Isaianic herald was coming true at last: Israel’s god was becoming king, ‘Babylon’ was being defeated, and the exile was over at last.”[2] While Israel was back from physical exile, they were still under the Roman rule. Now, the true King had returned and Israel was at last returned from exile. Jesus the Christ was King of Heaven and earth.

            For the Gentiles—the church in Rome was made of both Jews and Gentiles, they can now be grafted into the covenant with the Jews (Romans 11). As well it allows the Gentiles to return from exile: their exile from God due to sin. But, now the good news, the euangelion, that Paul proclaims to the church in Rome is that there is a new King, an eternal King, of Heaven and earth. And because there is a new King has returned Heaven and earth have come together. Both Jew and Gentile are welcomed into the covenant. The Jew has returned from exile as the King has returned for the Gentile their exile from sin is possible. The age to come has been inaugurated. Our exile is over. When we celebrate the Eucharist we taste the new world and of which we are a part.

            Paul was not ashamed, or as Krister Stendahl writes afraid[3], to proclaim the new King to the people who shouted we have no king but Caesar and to those in the town where the Caesar resided. Why then do we hesitate so often to so do?

 

Until next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You: All Y’all!

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[1] N. T. Wright, Romans (Nashville: Abingdon Press: 2002), 415. 

[2] N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God V2: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), Kindle Location 12380-12394.

 

[3] Krister Stendahl, Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) Kindle Location 309.