Up, Up, and Away
Seventh Sunday of Easter
June 1, 2014
Holy Cross Faith Memorial, Pawley's Island
I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Once upon a time, there was a popular band among young people, and this group was called “The Fifth Dimension.” They recorded a number of songs that became well-known in the 60’s and 70’s … and even since those days. However, one of their biggest hits was “Up, Up, and Away.” I remember a particular weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when The Fifth Dimension arrived on the scene, and there was much excitement.
However, there was another attraction that weekend, as well. A massive hot air balloon appeared on campus about the same time. You can imagine that interest grew as the student body became aware that something special was in the works. And you can imagine, as well, the collective thrill as the balloon eventually lifted off, with The Fifth Dimension singing in the background, “Would you like to fly in my beautiful balloon?”
Now, I’ve never actually been in a hot air balloon. But I came close once. The Air and Space Museum in Washington had an IMAX presentation that depicted the experience and the views from a soaring balloon, traveling across the countryside. The viewers were instructed to hang onto the grab bars in front of us – and the reason for doing so became obvious immediately. Indeed, we felt and we sensed the experience of going up, up, and away.
From that experience and from descriptions of hot air balloon travelers, a couple of observations seem appropriate. First, there is a real sense of separation, as lift off takes place and as the earth seems gradually to recede. And secondly, familiar surroundings look very different from this new perspective, up high. Separation first, and then a new perspective follows.
Now, the experience of Jesus at the time of his Ascension must have been different from lifting off in a hot air balloon. On the other hand, some things probably were similar. Also, those people standing beside Jesus in Israel were different from those other people in Chapel Hill – in many ways. But, in both situations, everyone on the ground watched and, then, tilted their heads back. And, they all strained to see, even as the object of their attention grew smaller and, then, disappeared. Thus, what I want us to consider about Jesus’ Ascension today are those same two themes I mentioned earlier – separation and a new perspective.
Jesus was concerned about the effect that his Ascension would have on his disciples. He promised to be with those disciples “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). It was a promise he kept even after his death – for he appeared to the disciples as the resurrected Christ, after Easter. He was still present with them, you see. But now the time has come for his Ascension … for him to ascend to be with God the Father in heaven. Therefore, Jesus’ promise to be with the disciples must be fulfilled now by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the presence of Christ with the disciples, following the Ascension, is the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, Christ keeps his promise.
As Jesus ascended, the reality of separation must have seemed quite vivid. However, like those first disciples, we claim the promise of Jesus that he will be with us, even in our day. And, thus, we pray in today’s Collect, “O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before” (BCP, p 226).
Therefore, Jesus’ Ascension does bring about separation. However, the pain of that separation is tempered by the promise and the reality of Jesus’ Spirit – the Holy Spirit. That Spirit comes as our Comforter, as the presence of Christ on earth today.
Secondly, a new perspective comes to the one who ascends. Even though Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is offered prior to his Ascension, this perspective is a post-Ascension one, nevertheless. Our Gospel reading today contains part of that prayer of Jesus.
During his earthly life, Jesus has dealt with individuals who need a healing touch or instruction or correction. He has lived an intense life, full of the particulars of his time and place. However, the perspective of John 17 is broader, wide-spread, and, even, universal in its scope. It is as though Jesus has already ascended to God the Father and now is praying for what he sees from on high.
He prays for eternal life for the people to whom God sent him – for their well-being and protection. And Jesus sums up his prayer to God in this way: “Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11).
Notice, please, that final petition. Jesus has dealt with individuals in their pain and sickness and ignorance and contrariness. But from this new perspective, Jesus’ prayer takes on a different theme. He prays for the well-being, protection, and unity of those who follow him. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
We may not have had the experience of Jesus’ Ascension – up, up, and away. However, we do know life separate from Jesus on earth, from our perspective. In that separation, we know his presence as the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, who guides us and strengthens us on our journey now. Further, we also know some things about the vision of the ascended Christ. From his present perspective, Jesus prays on our behalf to God the Father – for well-being, for protection, and for unity. May God make us worthy of this prayer from our Lord! Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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