In the early 1970’s, most kids could tune in after school and watch old reruns. One of my favorites was the 1960’s version of Batman and Robin starring Adam West and Burt Ward. In each episode, the two “Caped Crusaders” faced a new villain who toward the end of the show, would capture the two heroes and place them in a death trap that usually involved either a saw, laser beam or some other outlandish weapon of torture. The show always seemed to end with Batman and Robin on the brink of their demise, and we the viewers were left living with the anxiety of not knowing until the next week, how and if our heroes would escape. Entertainment writers seem to use this writing style to capture the imagination and the interest of their viewers, and they use this ploy to insure that the fans are left wanting so that they will tune in when the fall episodes returned. The “cliffhanger” is quite an anxiety producer for many loyal TV fans.
Movie writers have embraced the “cliffhanger” as well as they chronicle their characters through the “movie sequel.” In the past 30 plus years, the sequel seems to be the norm for Hollywood. Some folks can claim that they’ve seen every one of the sequels of “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “The Matrix,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Jason Bourne” spy series. If you have seen these types of movies, you can just tell when there is a planned, because there is always a “cliffhanger scene” near the end of the movie. In the most recent Bourne series, at the end of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the star fell from a very tall building into the icy river below, then after a long pause as he floated lifelessly on the water, the music shifted and Bourne swam away safe and sound. According to the latest Hollywood buzz, the story is not over and the next Bourne thriller will be released within a year or so. Cliffhangers definitely grab our attention. They seem to draw us deeper into the story and they leave us wanting more.
Today is the first Sunday after the Ascension of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We do not spend a lot of time discussing the Ascension in the Church. We acknowledge the Ascension each week when we say the Nicene Creed, “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” We mention the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but we sometimes overlook the Ascension. The Ascension can be overlooked and for some it merely is relegated as an add-on to our theology. This dramatic moment in the life of Jesus, in the lives of his apostles, and in our Christian journeys, occupies a most important place in the narrative of our Christian faith.
Consider for a moment Jesus’ Ascension as a cliffhanger of sorts, and that there is a sequel planned. The Ascension of Christ is important for us as Christians for a couple of reasons. First, it serves as a visible sign that we are accepted by God, because through Christ’s ascension, Christ takes our humanity into the inner life of God. Imagine the mystery of the resurrected body of Christ (fully divine and fully human) is somehow fully integrated in the inner life of the Trinity; humanity and divinity united. God loves and accepts the beauty of creation so much, that our destination is with him and he freely accepts us.
The Ascension of Christ also serves as a reminder that the story of salvation continues and it serves as the hinge point between Jesus’ resurrection, and the ongoing narrative of the ministry of Christ in the church. The Ascension of Christ is that moment in the story, with its dramatic transition and the uncertainty of Jesus followers, that tells us that there is a sequel on the way. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all (men) to myself.” (John 12:32) The Ascension of Christ serves as a declaration that Jesus’ ministry doesn’t end with the resurrection, but that there is much more to come, and we have a major part in the ongoing drama.
Theologian Gregory Shaw once wrote, the ascension reveals Christ’s “divinity, but more importantly . . . the ascension of Christ also signaled the beginning of a messianic kingdom and the empowerment of Christ’s followers, by virtue of their identification with him through the rite of baptism.” (Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, Gregory Shaw, New York,p. 61) The messianic kingdom has already begun, and Jesus sends out his followers into the world to continue his ministry of reconciliation, restoration, and grace. Jesus sends not just the first followers, but he sends us out with the same commission. He sends us out not alone, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit, who empowers and strengthens us to do that which we have been called to do.
The story continues, the sequel has begun, and through the Spirit working through us, others may come to know Christ and the reconciliation and restoration given so freely to all creation. The Holy Spirit is, “God at work in the world and in the Church even now.” (The Book of Common Prayer p. 852) “The Holy Spirit is revealed as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ. We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” (The Book of Common Prayer p. 852) In a week, we will commemorate another major event in the life of the Church,The Day of Pentecost. It is important to us, because it was the day that the Holy Spirit was given to the church, and it was soon after this miraculous event, the apostles went out and began witnessing and spreading the Gospel to all the reaches of the world.
This mission was given to them, but they were not alone. They were empowered by the presence of God working in and through them. God’s Spirit was active then, and God’s Spirit is active now in the Church today. We like the early disciples, are sent out to keep the drama alive and to bring others to the knowledge and love of Christ. We are able to do this, because God’s Spirit is making it possible through us as we respond in faith.
The apostles responded because the Ascension was not a sign for them merely to sit around, do nothing, and wait for Jesus to return. There was work to be done and Jesus had given them their marching orders. The Ascension was not the end of the story, it was the beginning of our part in this ongoing drama of salvation. Today, the church is called to move forward in our mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. We work now, to bring about the Kingdom of God, now. We do this when we serve each other, the least, the lost, and the lonely, among us and wherever we may find them. Yes, the Ascension of Christ encourages us to look forward with anticipation to Christ’s return, but we must work now because the Kingdom of God has already been inaugurated. When we recite the Nicene Creed we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” The promise of Christ’s return gives us hope and encouragement that we can live without anxiety and fear in the expectation of the coming Kingdom. We wait and yet, we work. We hope, and yet we minister but we are never alone.
On a recent visit to a beautiful, isolated, and secluded holy place, I found on the wall of the retreat center a plaque, on which was written these words, “Good Morning, This Is God! I will be Handling all Your Problems Today. I Will Not Need Your Help — So Have a Good Day. I Love You.” As we wait and work, we are assured that the presence of the Holy Spirit, God actively working in the world today, is in charge, and it is on God, that we can cast all our anxieties and fears. We can rest in the assurance that here at St. David’s, the Spirit will guide us, the Spirit will lead us, and the Spirit will strengthen us for the mission of love and service to which we have been called. Our mission is to bring all the players in the drama (the least, the lost, and the lonely) to the knowledge and love of Christ. As we recall the Ascension, it is time for us to move our gaze from the skies, and take up our part in bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is emerging all around us. Our sequel has begun, the drama continues, Our Lord is calling us into service.