You may have noticed that we altered the order of the readings this afternoon, putting the gospel lesson before the lesson from Acts. This is the natural order of things, especially since Luke-Acts form two-volumes of a single work. According to tradition, both were written by Luke, the beloved physician, a companion of Paul on many of his missionary journeys. And both are addressed to Theophilus, which, translated from the Greek means “God-lover.” Theophilus may or may not have been a single individual. Even if he was, he certainly stands for all God lovers, whenever and wherever they have lived.
Are you a God-lover? I like to think that I am, yet I have often identified with John Wesley on that day when he wrote in his journal, “Today, I do not love God. I am not sure I ever have.” Wesley would later thank God that Jesus made loving him a matter of keeping his commandments, to love one another even as he loved us, to love one another even as we love ourselves.
God is not a warm fuzzy. The God of creation, the God who called Israel into being is “immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.” Small wonder that Psalm 111 declares, “The Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” The fear of the LORD was also the beginning of love for God. Only in the person of the only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ does God draw near to us, and draw us near to himself not through fear, but from the sheer attractiveness of his life.
In the Incarnation, perfect God becomes perfect man. The Son of God brings the Eternal God near when he empties himself, takes the form of a servant, is born a human being, and then humbles himself and become obedient unto death, even death on a cross. As a human being, Jesus lived among us and died with us and for us. In John 13, it was Jesus himself who said, “I, if I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” Chaos theory speaks of a particle called a strange attractor. Christ on the Cross is the “strangest attractor.” We can’t explain it, but God is much more believable, trustable, and loveable when he allows himself to be driven out of the world on a cross.
In the Resurrection and Ascension, perfect man becomes perfect God. The Son of God did not become a human being for 33 years and then lay his humanity aside to return to his pre-incarnation state. Instead, Jesus, the Son of Man lifts our humanity into heaven. According to the stories in Luke-Acts, sometime after his resurrection, Jesus led his disciples to the road that leads out of Jerusalem as far as Bethany, and after giving them instruction to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit, which would give them the power to be his witnesses, he was taken from them up into heaven. According to Acts, he was taken up, as on a cloud, and after he was taken up, the disciples stood looking into the sky. They stared at where he had been, like people stare at a boat that is carrying someone they love until it is “hull down over the horizon.” Then, According to Acts 1:11, two men clothed in white appeared to them and said:
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come (again) in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Years later, reflecting on this event, the beloved Disciple wrote:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him…”
Human life begins in the womb and ends in the tomb. The human life of Jesus begins in the Incarnation, then in the Ascension, he lifts that human life into God’s eternity. His Eternal Life in human form stands against all disease, and doubt, and death, and destruction. It stands as the massive sign of hope that death is not the end of life, but the beginning of the life that is far better (and not just longer) than the life we have known. Jesus is the firstfruits we are the harvest.
What does the hymn declare?
Hail, all hail victorious Lord, and Savior,
Thou hast burst the bonds of death,
Grant us as to Mary the great favor,
To embrace thy feet in faith.
Thou hast for us the curse endured,
And for us Eternal Life procured,
Joyful we with one accord,
Hail Thee as our Risen and Ascended Lord!