Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54351 [retrieved May 22, 2023]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skip/111045024/.
RCL Year A, Easter 7
Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10 and 33-36, I Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11, Saint John 17:1-11
For most of my adult life, the Seventh Sunday of Easter has been one of my favorite Sundays of the Church Year for reasons that are personal as well as theological.
I love the Ascension of the Lord. It is one of my favorite feasts. It seems so fitting that the eternally begotten Son should return to heaven after completing his work and ministry on earth. Today, the Sunday after Ascension Day, is the one Sunday of the year we use the Preface of the Ascension, and to me that makes today almost beyond comparison. I understand the hierarchy that puts Easter and Christmas ahead of the Ascension in importance, but that does not mean that this soul cannot be thrilled by all of them in different ways and for different reasons.
We only hear the first chapter of the Book of Acts on Ascension Day itself, which was Thursday, and today. Readings from Acts are almost a Gospel proclamation. Here Jesus speaks directly to us. Remember that Acts is the sequel to Luke: both were written by Luke the Physician, and the Gospel’s themes are developed and concluded in Acts.
The story of the Ascension is the story of Christ’s ministry on earth in miniature. His chosen band of disciples get it wrong again, as they always seem to do. They ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Just before he departs from them in bodily form, they ask the question that betrays their misunderstanding of the whole effort. They are looking back; they want a return to ancient glory and power; they are not looking forward into eternity, into the new freedom, into the new liberty, into the new and restored relationship with God the Father that his sacrifice has so dearly purchased. They don’t get it. But the beautiful thing, the glorious thing, is that they do not have to get it. His sacrifice and his love for them obtain and operate all the time. His sacrifice and his love for them saves them whether they get it or not. His sacrifice and his love are like the law of gravity or the law of supply and demand: it works, it operates, whether we understand it or not.
So Jesus leaves them much better off than when he first arrived in their lives. But they don’t get that, either. They see him go without restoring the kingdom to Israel—something for them to think about, something that if they ponder it, they may gain some insight.
But Jesus does not leave them before he prays for them in the Gospel. Since the sixteenth century, the seventeenth chapter of Saint John has been called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” And we hear it only today; various portions of it are distributed through the Lectionary’s three-year cycle for use today and today only. Jesus prays for his disciples as an intercessor.
Remember that whenever you pray for anyone, you are doing a very Christ-like thing. Don’t ever forget that.
Jesus intercedes for his present and his future disciples, which is us. He prays for them and for us that we be protected so that we may be one with him as he is one with the Father. Nothing about this is bad news; there is nothing but blessing and love for us in this prayer. He goes so far as to say that he is glorified in us.
I hope that you can easily see the big picture. The disciples don’t really understand Jesus, but then they don’t have to. Whether they understand or not, Jesus’ love and blessing flow to them continually in his prayer. His love for them, for us, is not conditioned on their or our understanding. His love is completely unconditional. If you have never experienced unconditional love from any other person, you have and can experience it from Jesus.
Is not that good news? Life no longer is a ledger of good and bad, right and wrong, excellence or failure. Life as he bestows it through his sacrifice and in his love is no longer a balancing act. It is pure love from the true source of all love. His offering of himself for us is pure gift. “How wonderful is God in his holy places! * the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people! Blessed be God!”
What in the world are we going to do with this gift?
 Acts 1:6.
 Saint John 17:11.
 Saint John 17:10.
 Psalm 68:36.