21 May 2023: The Ascension of our Lord

Faithful Conversations #14

Reminder to readers: The Lectionary includes four scripture passages for each Sunday:
1. An Old Testament reading (Acts is featured during the Easter season);
2. A Psalm that is intended as a response to the first reading;
3. A New Testament reading;
4. The Gospel reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

My reflections this week will focus on the second reading and the Gospel. 

Readings for the Ascension of our Lord Sunday:
Acts 1: 1-11
Psalm 47 or 93
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Luke 24: 44-53

Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23: The Prayer of St. Paul
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may perceive what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The Gospel Reading: Luke 24: 44-53: The Ascension of Jesus
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Today’s Reflection: Changing Hearts and Minds

Gordon Thunder

Ho-Chunk elder Gordon Thunder visited my classroom a number of times during my tenure at BRFHS.  He said something I never forgot during his first visit in the early 1990s: “Education is much more a matter of the heart than of the head.” Pointing to his heart, he recounted his childhood memory of walking in the woods with his Cooka (pronounced “cho-ka,” meaning grandfather) who would periodically stop and teach him things along the path. A beautiful memory, and a reminder that authentic learning starts with inspiration.  

Gordon’s words resonated with me this week as I read the passage from Ephesians and the Gospel. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul asks God to grant believers the spirit of wisdom and that the eyes of their heart be enlightened. I’m intrigued by Paul’s language here. One commentator I read suggests that the heart represents our core — our inner self — encompassing our mind, will, and emotions (is this our soul?). Thus, utilizing the eyes of our heart means to fully perceive, to become enlightened. It strikes me that we should recall this prayer every time we read from the scriptures. 

And while Paul PRAYED FOR the believers to become enlightened, Jesus GRANTED such insight, as noted in the Gospel reading (Luke 24:45). First, some context. Recall that in the immediate aftermath of his resurrection, Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, then vanished while breaking bread with them in the village. In this week’s passage, he reappears to them in Jerusalem where they had gathered. He again identifies himself as the fulfillment of the prophecies from the Jewish scriptures (verse 44). Then Luke interjects that succinct statement in verse 45: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Read this passage in conjunction with the this discussion on the road to Emmaus — Luke 24: 13-35, and take special note of verse 31. Further, in verses 46-49, Jesus provides a summary of the Christian faith and, in effect, sets up the work that will be undertaken by those first generation Christians as documented in Acts. After naming them as witnesses to his reality, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit (stay tuned for that next week!).  Luke ends with that stunning vision of Jesus ascending to heaven, and repeats that scene in the first chapter of Acts. Interestingly, Matthew, Mark, and John do not present the ascension story in this manner.

“Jesus Ascending into Heaven” by
John Singleton Copley, 1775

How should we interpret Luke’s account of this dramatic and mysterious moment?  I have much yet to reflect on regarding the ascension story — I need to know more. The Copley painting I included here reminds me that we often attempt to place the mysteries and wonders of our Creator into our imperfect understanding of space and time. A commentary from philosopher Stephen Davis of Claremont University resonated with me this week and is helpful:   

“I do not believe that in the Ascension Jesus went up, kept going until he achieved escape velocity from the earth, and then kept moving until he got to heaven, as if heaven were located somewhere in space. The Ascension of Jesus was primarily a change of state rather than a change of location. Jesus changed in the Ascension from being present in the realm of space and time to being present in the realm of eternity, in the transcendent heavenly realm.”

Clearly, our spiritual ancestors experienced something miraculous two thousand years ago. Like them, we are witnesses to God’s reality in our time and in this place. Guided by the Holy Spirit and praying that the eyes of our hearts be opened,  we  are called to be a light for those around us. Yes, the world desperately needs the message of Jesus Christ.  

Soli Deo Gloria.    

Prayer (inspired by Psalms 47 and 93): 

God, our Creator: You grant us life and are are an awesome God. There is nothing in this world that can separate us from you. While everything in our lives is fleeting and transitory, YOU are everlasting. You are more majestic than “the thunders of mighty waters.” Grant us strength when we falter in our faith and open our hearts and minds to your word. Amen. 

** Note: If you want to spend more time on the ascension story, this link will take you to a terrific reflection by a man named Dan Clendenin. He founded the website, Journey With Jesus in 2004 and writes extensively on many topics related to the Christian faith.    

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