(Reading: Acts 1:6-14)
So, the first thing the disciples ask Jesus in the book of Acts, after they have been with him during his ministry, seen all the miracles, the healings, the wonders, after they have witnessed his death, and experienced his post-resurrection appearances, is this:
So, Jesus, NOW are you going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?
This may strike us as ridiculous, but it’s really understandable if we remember that for their people in their day, everyone believed that the way to tell if someone is the Messiah is if he restores the Kingdom of Israel. That was their understanding of the job description of “Messiah.”
So Jesus had died and been resurrected, which was pretty neat and certainly unexpected, but there was still that nagging question about the restoration of Israel. The disciples probably knew that they were running out of time. They had been through a lot, following Jesus, and perhaps felt they needed this thing to get back on track.
But in response, Jesus began to reframe the whole story for them. He said there will be a restoration, but it’s not what they think it is, and it’s not going to happen on their, or anyone else’s, timetable.
He tells them that the focus is going to move beyond what he did to what the disciples are going to do. Because they are going to be the witnesses to God’s work in Jesus and they are going to carry that message and now do that work - to the ends of the earth.
Notice he doesn’t ask them if this is ok with them. This is a scene of commissioning. The restoration is going to come through them, and it’s going to be about a lot more than Israel.
And then he disappears from their sight, ascending into heaven, as we affirm in the Creed, even though of course this is a theological claim and not a lesson in physics or rocket science.
The ascension means that Jesus went back to God and took his place at God’s right hand, bringing his - and thus our - humanity right into God’s presence. This is a beautiful thing, our redemption, we humans being connected to the Divine through Jesus’s coming to us and living among us and dying as we will die and returning to God with our nature in tow.
So what do the disciples do as Jesus disappears? They did what any of us would do. They stand there watching him go up into the sky. At least, that’s what they did until the angels called them on this response and told them to get on with it. And their getting on with it is that they go back to their upper room to think things through. They thought they knew what the story was going to be, and then suddenly the story changed, but then Jesus came among them again so maybe they were back to the original story, but then Jesus left and said, well, actually, it’s your turn now. So this was going to take some thought.
This is kind of how it is for us now, isn’t it? We were in our church building praising God, but then we had to move out of our church building for a while and we are still out of our church building and maybe the angels should be coming among us to ask, why are you still looking for God’s work in the church building? The story has moved with the situation in the world. Maybe we should be asking “What is our commission now?”
So like the disciples in their room discerning where God is leading them, so we are in a time of discernment, too. What is God calling us to do, to be, now? The old story is changing, has changed, and we need to discern what the new thing is that God wants to do among us. We need to reframe the story for ourselves just as the disciples did when Jesus returned to God and commissioned them to become the image of Christ in the world as the new way in which God intends (with the help of the Spirit, coming next week!) to transform the world.
We, like the disciples, don’t know exactly where this is going. This is a time of feeling vulnerable. What’s going to happen to our community? What are we called to do, now that we are not doing what we used to? What will we be called to do as time goes on and the contour of a new world comes into focus? How will we meet the challenge to witness the Gospel in that new world? This is our work now, our work to discern with the help of the Holy Spirit, that Spirit which will lead us into all truth.
And so when the disciples asked Jesus, NOW are you going to restore the kingdom, his answer was no. Now is when YOU are going to restore the kingdom, a new kingdom that’s much bigger than the one you know or think you want. It’s going to be one of those new things that God does among you.
So how will we recognize Christ among us in this new way of being together? How will we be the church outside of our building? How will we know what God is calling us to do?
I think we can take a page from Mary and the other women along with the disciples and make this the focus of our prayers. God wants to gather God’s people into relationship - that Eternal Life that Jesus was talking about, Eternal Life that is knowing God and participating in God’s life. I think we will need to seek the Spirit’s illumination of grace and truth in the midst of the darkness of this confusing time.
Because even though this is a confusing time, it is also just the right time to work toward the restoration of all God’s people to the wholeness that Jesus came to give freely to all who desire it. Jesus came to show us that restoration to wholeness is the healing balm the people in the world so desperately need. They needed it then - the leper, the outcast, the grieving, the lame and the blind, the ones who were out of their minds, all those suffering from injustice and sickness and loneliness - and we need it now. People are still suffering now and here.
So now is just the right time. It’s just the right time to pray for guidance, to look for opportunity, to participate in whatever new thing God is preparing for us in God’s good time.