1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.’ 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
I have a good memory for numbers. And so I remember that today is the anniversary of my confirmation. May 13th is also the feast day of Julian of Norwich.
Where I grew up confirmation was not only the coming of age of a young person in their relationship with God and the church but also very much a societal rite of passage and expectation.
My confirmation was important to me, though perhaps not as important as it may have been for my parents. I sort of knew my place in God’s economy and I did not have to invite relatives and neighbours, as my parents did.
Today we also celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. It is a movable feast as it is tied to Easter and, according to the Biblical witness, the Ascension of Jesus took place 40 days after Easter. (Acts 1)
Theologically the ascension has often been viewed as an enthronement of Jesus who – until he comes again – is seated at the right hand of the Father. Enthronement is less about an actual throne or a heavenly throne room, but about the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.
I don’t know about you, but I happen to be a worrier. And lately, I have been worrying about things. The thing with worrying is that it occupies your mind and accomplishes nothing (except that it wears you out).
There’s a beautiful children’s book I came upon after our children had grown. It is called The Princess and the Goblin. It was written by the Scottish poet and minister George MacDonald. MacDonald’s influence continues to be significant, not only because he was a mentor to Lewis Carroll.
There is a line in the book that has imprinted itself on my mind. It is this, “Fear always sides with what you are afraid of.”
“Fear always sides with what we are afraid of,” means that fear does not offer solutions rather it leads to an obsession. The deer-in-the headlight syndrome. The same can be said about anger, and perhaps disappointment. And because fear always sides what we are afraid of, it leads us deeper into despair and not out of it.
And so it is helpful for us to remember and realize that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, because it means that Jesus is Lord of all, and that from him, through him, and to him are all things, and unpacking what this means is part of the life of the followers of Jesus.
The summary of it is that Jesus is in control, and God’s will in Jesus is always toward salvation, toward the healing of the world, and the liberation of all of God’s beloved.
When we make time to pray, when we gather in worship, as we do this evening, we do so not in denial of the real problems we face in the world but remembering that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, that all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. And that therefore fear and the evil one have no power over us.
That all will be well is no platitude, but was borne out in the life of Julian who knew that love was the reason that all would be well.
It would be easy for us to dismiss Julian’s assertion and with it the reality of Christ’s enthronement in light of the world’s challenges.
It would also be easy to dismiss the world’s challenges and only hold on to Julian’s affirmation and the witness of the Scriptures.
And yet, both are real, but to overcome the challenges before us we draw our strength and courage from the One who became one of us and who has defeated principalities and powers.
Thanks be to God.