It’s been already two months since we last met in this sanctuary and worshipped in person together. For the last two months, the landscape of our lives has drastically changed in a way we never imagined before. Death toll has mounted. Economy has failed. And people have suffered… suffered from losing friends and family members, losing jobs and businesses, and losing faith and hope. While we have been sheltered in place for the last two months, the world has become a strange place. And we all wonder if there’s any way-out. We are eager to find out when we would be free from all these miseries. But we know, nobody has the correct answer. Nobody can tell us when the day will finally arrive.
So these days, I frequently find myself daydream. I imagine the day when the COVID-19 vaccine gets distributed and we all get immunized. How joyful it would be! When the day comes fast enough, I would meet you all in the church and worship together in exuberant joy and thanksgiving, and I would give a big hug to every one of you before I leave. When the day comes, I would have a wonderful reunion with my family and friends in South Korea, and I would visit the resting place of my grandmother who recently passed away. I would go out and dine at my favorite restaurants. I would travel here and there.
And my daydreaming usually doesn’t stop here. I imagine further the day…the day when we finally overcome not only the pandemic but also the things this pandemic has revealed about our society. The deeply entrenched racism. The epidemic of violence and bigotry. The devastating inequality and disparity. And I imagine further the day, the day described in the Bible, the Day of the Lord, when the kingdom of God finally comes in our midst. When the day comes, we shall see justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We shall live in boundless peace and joy. We shall see no more deaths and tears, no more worries and cries. No more unemployment. No more hungers and struggles. These days, I frequently find myself daydream of such day.
Today we are celebrating the day of ascension. The Bible lessons for today tell us that a cloud took Jesus out of the disciples’ sight. And from that day on, the followers of Jesus began to wait for the day of his return, the Day of the Lord. They started to imagine the day when Jesus comes down from his heavenly seat, from the right hand of God. They imagined the day when he comes again to judge the living and the dead as affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed.
So is this all about ascension? Jesus Christ is lifted up to heaven and we are to wait for the day of his return? Are we, Christians, supposed to only imagine and long for the new kingdom to come with Jesus Christ some day? I don’t think that’s everything about this Ascension Sunday. There’s more about our Lord’s Ascension. This event doesn’t leave us to be just passive or inattentive. Rather, it leaves us a task and keeps us active. It reminds us of a very critical mission we should carry out while waiting for the day.
In today’s Acts reading, the disciples get confused watching their resurrected Lord and Savior take off heavenward. They want to know where Jesus is going and when he would come back. But Jesus only says, “It is not for you to know, but wait until you receive the Holy Spirit.” And then he’s gone. The disciples are standing there looking up, wishing to see some sign, or to hear some more words of assurance. But instead, the disciples hear an awakening voice from two persons in white robes, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward 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” (Acts 1:11). Here, the point is: “Don’t just stay there as spectators, but act like the follows of Jesus. He is surely coming.” If I may translate this in more colloquial phrases, it might be like, “Will you stand there forever? I told you, he’s coming back, so get back to your mission.”
The disciples also listen to the voice of Jesus himself at the ascension. Jesus tells his disciples about the task, the final mission. He says, “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised” (Luke 24:48). “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). Be my witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the task. Be my witnesses—don’t just imagine or long for the day to come, but bear witness to what you have already experienced and what you have come to believe.
As you may know, it’s widely accepted that the same author wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. So they are two volumes in one series. The two readings we read this morning are the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Acts. That is, Luke closes Jesus’ story and starts a new story about early Christians’ lives. Between these two stories, Jesus’ ascension comes as a bridge. Yes, Luke writes the same narrative in both books. Why? I think it’s simply because the story is important and especially, the task is crucial. “The Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). Jesus asks us to go out and tell. Go and be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Faithful friends in Christ, on this Ascension of the Lord Sunday, we have to listen to Jesus calling us into our lifelong vocation as Christians: to be his witness. Then, how can we be his witness? Can we do that even in this pandemic? Of course. We don’t have to think big things. We can just start with small things. Think about practicing small acts of love and kindness. Small acts of care and hospitality. And think about sharing small words of comfort and encouragement. Small words of support and sympathy. These simple words and deeds are a good start witness Jesus. And they will never go in vain. They will be rewarded by God. For sure, it would be great if we can actually go out and bear witness to Jesus Christ to someone who doesn’t know Jesus. But today, let’s start simple.
Would you be a witness of Jesus with me today? On this day we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, we are called to share the good news, share the redeeming love that we have seen, felt, known, and experienced in Jesus Christ and in this community of God. So let’s not just long for the day, but be his witnesses today. Until Jesus comes in his glory to judge the living and the dead, and we shall joyfully live in everlasting peace and love… until the day, let us earnestly work to make God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In the power of the Holy Spirit, let us be his witnesses in all we do, and do it all to the glory of God. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim