Easter 7A; Acts 1:6-14
Today is the 43rd day of Easter. This past Thursday, the 40th day of Easter, was the Feast of the Ascension. And while that feast is non-transferable, we still get readings and prayers referencing that event.
The apostles have been meeting together since the resurrection, originally trying to figure out what to do with themselves since Jesus died, but then reveling in his various appearances. For 40 days, according to Luke, the apostles spent time with Jesus putting the finishing touches on what they had learned over the past three years. But they still don't quite get it, asking, “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
“Um . . .” Jesus responded, “let me think . . . No. It is not your job to worry about the restoration of kingdoms. But it IS your job to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These are the last earthly words, according to Luke, spoken by Jesus; after which he ascended into heaven.
So here we are – the disciples have just gotten used to Jesus once again being with them when he tells them that they are to be witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth; and then . . . poof . . . up he goes. The disciples can do nothing but gaze up to the sky watching him disappear.
I don't fault them for this. Which of us would do otherwise? But there they stood, heads back, gazing and gawking up toward heaven. I wonder how long they would have stayed there like that if the angels hadn't appeared.
Luke doesn't call them angels, but they are – two men, white robes, suddenly appearing. He used roughly this same description at the tomb of Jesus when two angels appeared to the women. Anyway, these two angels come upon the apostles staring up to heaven and say, “Dudes, how long are you going to stand here like this?” This spurs them back to Jerusalem where they, and some others, devote themselves to prayer.
But that's not where this ends. If it did, the Bible would be a whole lot shorter than it is. No, this isn't where it ends, this is where it begins.
“And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
There's that word again – witness. Jesus is telling the apostles that they will be the ones to tell the story. They will be the ones to live out kingdom goals. They will be the ones to help break down walls. They will be the ones to strive for peace. They will be the ones to proclaim what Paul would eventually write – that there is no more Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ. They will be the ones to help usher in the kingdom of God.
And now this task has fallen to us. We have received power by virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are the inheritors of this mission to be witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Are you ready?
I hope so, because this is what the entire Easter season has been leading up to. Jesus wasn't resurrected from the dead just so he could perform a few extra miracles and throw some fish on the barbie. He was resurrected to give Mary the courage to be an apostle. He was resurrected to demonstrate to Thomas you don't need to touch his body to feel his presence. He was resurrected to move Peter from trinitarian denial to trinitarian love. He was resurrected to move us from passive witnesses of his life to being active witnesses of his life, death, and resurrection.
Today we are in the same place the apostles were on that Day of Ascension. It would be easy for us to simply stand around gazing in awe and wonder up to heaven. If you don't believe me, look at the high altar. I have been told by many people that they could just sit in a pew and gaze in awe and wonder at that piece of art – some to meditate and pray, some to soak in the details, some to admire its beauty. I've said the same thing myself. But, like the apostles before us, that is not what we are called to do. We are called to be witnesses for Christ.
That, you might protest, is a big job. It's so big that you may get overwhelmed by its bigness, paralyzed by the thought that there's no way we can reach to the ends of the earth. Luckily for us Jesus provides us with a blueprint for action.
The first thing we need to know is that we aren't being sent out without support. We will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. We received that power at our baptism. We will be reminded of that power next week on the Day of Pentecost.
From there we are to be witnesses for Christ, proclaiming the good news in Hagerstown, Maryland and the Tri-State region, and to the ends of the earth.
Notice the order. Witness here first. Stay local. Stay focused. When you have figured out how to be a witness within your own community, then you can branch out into a larger area. The witness you provide will be passed from one person to another, connecting and spreading in a multitude of ways. Things we do here as witnesses can have an impact there.
We have moved to a post-resurrection, post-ascension world. Jesus has left us in charge of his mission. We are the ones to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand. We are Christ's witnesses here, there, and everywhere. We are not called to stand in one place gazing into heaven; we are called to act.
As we move forward from here, how will you live out that commission?