Friday, May 27, 2011


After the Day of Resurrection, Jesus appeared to many of his disciples during the following 40 days. Such accounts, while missing from the original ending of the Gospel of Mark, are cited in the other three gospels. In the last chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the first chapter of the Acts, on the 40th day after his resurrection, he came again to the Apostles and led them out to the Mount of Olives where he instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they were watching, he ascended into clouds. As they continued to watch, two angels appeared and declared to them that, just as he ascended, Jesus would return in glory.

According to Augustine of Hippo, one of the early church fathers, the Feast of Ascension originated with the Apostles. John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, contemporaries of Augustine, refer to it as being one of the oldest feasts practiced by the Church, possibly going back as far AD 68. There is no written evidence, however, of the Church honoring Ascension Day until Augustine's time in the fourth century. There are many indications that the Day of Ascension was one of the most important feasts of celebration, only surpassed by Easter, Christmas, and The Epiphany.

Today, as an Ecumenical feast, Ascension Day is one of the six holy days where attendance at Mass is mandatory for Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The event is generally a one-day public commemoration, although the Church, in keeping with earlier traditions regarding festivals, might offer devotions for seven days.

For many Christians, Ascension Day's meaning provides a sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. We remember what the angels said after Jesus ascended to heaven, that Jesus will return. It is a reminder of the Reign of God within their hearts. Furthermore, we are reminded that Christ is now with God representing us and advocating our relationship with God through him.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he told the apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait there for the power from on high. Jesus said, “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." In other words, as he ascended to heaven, he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, which arrived on Pentecost, ten days later. But his comment didn’t end there. The power that they received, and we now receive, had an intentional purpose. We are to be witnesses to his life-giving acts, the promises he gave, and the thoughts of how we are to live in relationship with God and our fellow humans.

This coming Thursday, June 2, is Ascension Day. I would be surprised if there are any worship services available, except in the Roman Catholic churches. The festival has become lost in the hurry-scurry of our every day lives along with the distractions that the world brings. While it might be difficult to bring the festival back into the sanctuaries, we could spend time that day, considering his life, death, and resurrection here on earth. We could then ponder how we, as his disciples, might better be witnesses to all that Jesus Christ represents.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Some of those who read this blog might know of Rob Bell. Some may be aware, or have read, his latest book, Love Wins. The book is a reflection by Rob Bell on the notions of heaven and hell and the concept of eternal life. While I haven’t completely finished reading the book, I find that I might be in a position to provide some of my own reflections in addition to talking about a Lutheran perspective.

One of the significant comments made by the author is found on page 115, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.”


There are many ways to read scripture. We can absorb it by segments, large or small. Doing it that way might assist us in coming to the conclusion that many of us will perish from God forever because of their choices. There are many passages in scripture, when taken independently, will support that premise. The other way is to take scripture and embrace its total story as told by the multitude of individual stories that are incorporated within the Book of Faith. I cannot speak for anyone else, but when I do that, I find an incredible God of love who has created, redeemed, and empowered us from the beginning of the whole story throughout scripture until the end. To me, the scriptures provide a story of a God of love, who is also full of grace and mercy. To me, the message conveyed by all of scripture is that God continually walks with us, wanting to be our Father, our Brother, and our Spirit. To me, the Book of Faith is a story of just that, story after story that propels us into a faith relationship with the Triune God. It is a complete story of relationship, the relationship of humanity with God and the relationship of humanity with one another.

The beauty of this story is that it, overall, does not come to a conclusion about heaven and hell. It is not meant to. It is not it’s purpose to convey a principle of how we must live in order to reap the benefits of being morally responsible. It is a story about God and the length, width and depth to which God loves us. It is a story about the desire of God to be in relationship with us because of God’s love for us. And, because of that relationship, God’s desire is for us to be in a loving relationship with one another, because of God’s love. And, because God is love, when we express the love from God to others, God is with us.

Is there a heaven and a hell? I don’t know. I don’t have any idea and no one has come back, except Jesus to tell me if there is or not. That’s not the question. I believe that God wants me to live in the present. That’s where God is. He’s not in the past; that’s no longer here. He’s not in the future; the future hasn’t arrived yet. If I live in the present and realize that life is about God, not about me, then I will have a good chance to be in relationship with God. And if that occurs, then I can be a channel of love to other people as God uses me to be a conduit God’s love.

Especially in the Gospel of John, we find Jesus expressing the notion that eternal life does not begin after death. It is in the present. John 17:3 says, “Eternal life is to know God.” We’ll find out soon enough about what is on the other side of death. Right now, I wish to experience eternal life right now.