May 20, 2012
This week is Ascension Sunday, where the Church celebrates Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. Other than being yet another article of the Christian faith, though, why should anyone care about the Ascension? Does it make a difference to anyone if Christ is in Heaven? If we take a closer look at the readings for this week, we’ll see that – actually – the Ascension is only half the story.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which opens up the entire book, Jesus promises the Disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is only after Christ makes this promise that “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (vv.9). Yes, Jesus leaves us to be reunited with God the Abba (Jesus’ word for God, meaning “Papa” or “Daddy” in Aramaic). But He doesn’t just leave us in the lurch. The Holy Spirit (also known as “the Comforter”) will be coming with “power” to enable the Apostles to carry on as witnesses. This promise enables the Apostles to do their first task together – they select Matthias from among Jesus’ followers to replace the now-dead Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Jesus. While painful, this act shows that the Apostles now have the ability to carry on and do what is necessary to spread the Good News.
In the Gospel reading for this week, Jesus is gazing up into Heaven, speaking to the Abba shortly before He leaves with His Disciples to the garden where He will be betrayed. Jesus foresees His coming into Heaven, and prays for His Disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:17-18). Again, Jesus knows that He is leaving, but He is not leaving us in the lurch. We have the truth, God’s word to comfort us.
Many times in history, leaders have emerged to speak on behalf of the world’s crucified peoples – people who otherwise would be silenced and invisible before the powers and principalities of the world. Because the world (Greek: kosmos) is governed by power-mongering and violence-dealing, the leaders that these people depend upon often become victims of violence themselves. God, in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, was the leader, the redeemer and the patron of the oppressed – and was crucified as a result. When Jesus was taken away from us by violence, and reunited as a part of the unconditionally-loving, triune God, the oppressed for whom He spoke felt abandoned, but they were not left alone. When leaders of the oppressed today are victims of violence, they do not leave us alone, either.
Next week, May 22 is Harvey Milk Day. Harvey Milk was the first openly Gay man elected to public office on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was later assassinated by another man on the Board, Dan White, who also shot and killed Mayor George Moscone. Before he was assassinated Harvey Milk left a message to his followers, speaking into a tape recorder, “I ask this … If there should be an assassination, I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every Gay lawyer, every Gay architect come out … If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door”. Harvey Milk did not leave us in the lurch. He gave us his Spirit, and he gave us his words of hope – and the charge to pass that hope on to other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people who may feel hopeless. [Click here to see Harvey Milk Speech: Hope] As we combat the evils of homophobia and transphobia, let us look to the Comforter to give us the Spirit of power to speak out in love and truth against injustice. We are not alone.