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Jesus, Lift Us Up

A sermon on Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11.

[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by rivage on Unsplash.]

Like most people here, I imagine, I have experienced any number of goodbyes in my life.

The casual goodbyes with friends or acquaintances whom I expect to see again soon;

The more difficult goodbyes with loved ones who live far away, whom I only see occasionally and whom it is always a little painful to leave again after precious time together;

The relationship-shifting goodbyes with people I have shared just one phase of my life with – a season of school, or a workplace, or a town one of us is moving away from – goodbyes tinged with the awareness that even if we see each other again, it will never be quite the same;

But, of course, the hardest goodbyes are the forever goodbyes. I know I’m not alone in that.

That’s why I have trouble comprehending the final verses of Luke’s gospel.

In this scene, we witness the final goodbye (this side of eternity) between Jesus and his closest friends.

The way Luke paints the picture it feels like Jesus is still offering his final words of blessing as he is drawn away… not even getting that moment, that deep sigh or mutual silence, knowing it’s time… before he’s gone.

And then, “immediately” after, they return to Jerusalem “with great joy”… “continually blessing God”?

I don’t get it.

It doesn’t seem to fit my experience of what it feels like to have to reshape my life around the absence of someone who has been so central to it.

It is a task that is a necessary part of the human experience…

We can get through it, and hopefully grow through it, and find new meaning on the other side, but it is NOT a joyful experience.

It’s easier to grasp Luke’s other framing of these scene:

The telling from Acts where – instead of trying to close his story in a satisfying way – he is opening up the next stage of the drama.

In that telling the disciples ask questions and betray some anxiety about what comes next.

And when Jesus is taken, they stand staring, understandably bereft, unsure of what to do next, despite the instructions they had just received.

This is an immediate aftermath of a life-altering goodbye that I can understand.

It gives me hope that even those who walked and talked with Jesus, even those whose minds he opened to understand the scriptures, didn’t experience such a massive perspective shift that their responses no longer bear any resemblance to ours.

I find that hopeful because that means that we can still learn from their stories.

And the story in both of Luke’s account of Jesus’s ascension is a story of Jesus’s promise to send the Spirit of God on those he leaves behind… specifically to send them “power.”

Now, if I’m honest, “power” is not my favorite way of describing God’s activity in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

The language of power – in the abstract – has too often been appropriated within the church to promote the myth of redemptive violence and to argue that God’s design for human lives and systems is rigidly patriarchal, proscriptive, and authoritarian.

We see this pattern in the dangerous ideology of Christian Nationalism that was the topic of an Assembly workshop I helped to lead this past week, so these patterns are very much in the front of my mind.

But that workshop and the discussions it sparked clarified the difference between a destructive power-over – which equates power with control and dominance – versus empowerment – which opens up the possibility of positive change.

It is the change-oriented empowerment that is clearly the subject of Jesus’s promise to his disciples.

In the gospel account, the Spirit’s power is promised to order to equip the disciples to share the message of repentance and forgiveness.

Again, “repentance and forgiveness” is language that has, at times, been twisted by some Christian traditions to primarily invoke fear and guilt, but when we look at the original Greek these words are life-giving.

Repentance is the translation of the Greek μετάνοια (metanoia)[1], which literally means a change of mind… a shift in perspective that allows a person to live differently.

And forgiveness is the translation of ἄφεσις (áphesis)[2], which means release from both the imprisonment and the consequences of sin.

The power of the Spirit is promised to bring release and transformation, not just for the original disciples, but for all who hear the message that starts from them and spreads to all nations.

In the book of Acts, Luke reiterates the purpose of the Spirit’s coming in order to empower the disciples to be Jesus’ witnesses,

and then the whole rest of the book recounts that process of the life-changing message of Jesus spreading out to transform the lives of diverse (and sometimes unexpected) people.

It’s the first chapters of story that leads to all of us being here, in this little church on the lake, in 21st Century American, still telling the story of Jesus because the Spirit of God has come, and the Spirit does empower those who receive it, and that empowerment does change our lives.

And even though I still don’t quite understand how the disciples could immediately shift from “goodbye” to “joy,” I can believe that their joy is warranted.

Because it is the joy of the knowledge that even when we face massive shifts in our lives, God’s promise for us is the power for transformation: the power of knowing that whatever comes next, God’s Spirit will be with us through it all, empowering us.  

In order to call us into this promise, to remind us of the transforming power that we have with the active presence of God’s Spirit in our lives, I want to invite you to help me with the last part of my sermon today, by joining your voices in a responsive litany.[3] 

Litanies, by the way, are prayers in more than one voice, often in a call & response pattern.

They help us to experience the truth of our cooperation with each other in the practice of our faith by teaching us to partner together in seeking God’s involvement in our lives, calling us to both listen and to speak.

For this litany, on Ascension Sunday, as we remember Christ being lifted up to heaven, your part of the prayer, when I motion to you, is to say “Christ, lift us up.”

Let us pray. Lord of Life, you laid down your power, so that you could empower us.

Christ, lift us up.

You were lifted up on the cross, so that we would never be alone in our pain.

Christ, lift us up.

You were lifted up from the grave, so that death would never again have the final word.

Christ, lift us up.

You were lifted up to heaven, so that your Spirit’s presence could be with us in every time and place.

Christ, lift us up.

Remind us, now, of the hope we can find in your promise.

Christ, lift us up.


When are burdened by cares and responsibilities,

Christ, lift us up.

When we are overcome with sorrow and loss,

Christ, lift us up.

When we are worn out with injustice and violence,

Christ, lift us up.

When we are trapped by our own or others’ harmful patterns,

Christ, lift us up.


When we have the chance to offer someone hope,

Christ, lift us up.

When we discover the way that we can make a difference in the world,

Christ, lift us up.

When we need the courage to take the next step,

Christ, lift us up.

When we need to know that we are loved,

Christ, lift us up.

In every challenge, in every opportunity, in every moment, and in every thought

Christ, lift us up.

[3] This inspiration for this prayer comes from: Simpson, Ray. Liturgies from Lindisfarne: Prayers and Services for the Pilgrimage of Life. Buxhall: Great Britain, Kevin Mayhew. 2010.


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