1 June 2014
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Easter 7A (RCL)
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4: 12-14; 5:6-11
I always chuckle a little when I think of Jesus’ disciples standing there giving him and “upskirt.” I wonder if Luke intended the humor. Luke knew enough about the iconography of empire to cast the picture of Jesus’ ascension in terms recognizable as the apotheosis of Caesar. By having Jesus’, instead of his effigy, ascending into the clouds, Luke may have wanted this to seem silly, to extend the silliness to Caesar’s apotheosis as well. After all, one of the angels says to the disciples, “why do you stand staring up into heaven?” The point is not to watch the bottoms of his feet disappear.
The reading from John’s Gospel begins to answer the question, “Where is Jesus now?” Jesus begins his “high priestly” prayer to God by asking God to glorify the son, so that the son may glorify the father. He goes on to ask God to glorify him in God’s own presence, with the glory he had before the existence of the cosmos. Then, a few sentences later, he says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine (the disciples) and I have been glorified in them.” Only then does Jesus ask that we may all be one as he and the father are one. Glory comes through unity with God. Jesus has been unified with God in the community of disciples.
Jesus has glorified God by finishing the work which God gave him to do, which is precisely making God’s glory known through himself. This he has done for his disciples, and then after commanding the disciples to love one another as he has loved us, tells us that we will do greater works than he has done. That work must be making God known, not just to a select group of disciples, but to the world. We are the continuation of Christ’s work in the world, the revelation of God’s glory to the world. And we reveal that glory precisely in our love for one another and for the world (For God so loved the world . . .).
That is why Jesus prays on behalf of the disciples and not on behalf of the whole world. He prays that God will keep (protect, guard) us in God’s name, so that we can reveal that name in the same way Jesus has. The verb for keep is the same as the verb Jesus uses when he tells us to guard his commandments. The commandment which Jesus gives (love one another as I have loved you) invites us into the same relationship that exists between Jesus and the Father, but realized or instantiated here within the community on behalf of the world.
God indeed calls us into God’s glory, and calls a select group of people into that relationship. We must remember, however, that election in the biblical story is always for others. God chooses Israel in order to bless the world. The Word becomes incarnate in Jesus for the world. We are called into the same relationship as exists between the Word and the Father on behalf of the world. We continue the incarnation.
So, Jesus ascends not into heaven, but into our midst and becomes enfleshed in the community. Why, indeed, do you stand there gaping into heaven?