In the final verses of Luke’s gospel we read a vivid depiction of the ascension of Jesus. Surrounded by his disciples are they journey towards Bethnay Jesus is taken up. It is a wonderful account and in brings Luke’s gospel account to a close. Within this passage we find the sum of God’s message to us.
Begun in Genesis and completed through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus we find God’s promise for us. That all will be made new and all is forgiven. We are invited into a renewed relationship with God.
Text: Luke 24: 44-53
Kids like to make ‘pinky promises’ as if making a promise and linking fingers makes for a stronger bond. They take it very serious too! Perhaps not the keeping part of the promise, but certainly at the moment of making a ‘pinky promise’ it is a very serious affair.
All of us make promises throughout our lives. When we marry we promise to care for our spouse. If you were a Boy Scout or a Girl Guide you are aware that those organizations have an oath, a promise that you make and will fulfill. If you enlist in the military or police services you make an oath to fulfill your duty. In the church, we make promises before God when we baptise and when we ordain elders and ministers.
Making promises is not something that we do lightly. We are all to familiar with promises that are broken. When politicians campaign for office they make promises about things they will accomplish if elected. Then after being elected we watch to see if they will keep their promises. Some corporations promise to be good stewards of the environment, to support charitable events. They want to be good corporate citizens, but when push comes to shove the bottom line and share holders are the priority.
Of course, each of us has made a promise that we have broken. Some of them big and others little. Sometimes we use the word ‘promise’ in a very off-handed sort of way, we forget the weight that this word holds. Our words matter, just as our actions do.
Today we look at one of the most remarkable of all promises. The promise we find in Easter, with the resurrection of Jesus. Today we witness a remarkable promise from God of life. The resurrection and the body which Jesus had as appeared to the disciples is a topic of much debate and misunderstanding. How is it that a body which has died, could support life?
We know through medical science that once the heart ceases to beat, that life soon ends. That a brain which does not receive oxygen, even for a matter of moments, can be severely damaged. So how is it that Jesus is able to come back, how does he rise from the dead, what is this new body he has and what does it mean for us? This promise we receive from God, the promise of the resurrection, is full of questions and unknowns.
Theologian NT Wright explains that, “People often think that resurrection simply means life after death or going to heaven, but in the Jewish world of the first century it meant a new embodied life in God’s new world; a life after life after death.” (NT Wright, Luke for Everyone). This is a radical promise made by God, that can take time to wrap our head around. Often I will hear people say that someone’s soul has gone up to heaven and this is comforting thought. What is clear in the resurrection of Jesus is that it is less about having souls going to heaven and more about bodies which will be resurrected. Bodies which will be suited to living in heaven.
If our souls are simply going up to heaven, then what is the point of Jesus dying and then rising again? Why would we not follow in the pattern of Jesus? “It’s no doubt very nice for Jesus to be alive again, but what does it have to do with the rest of us? The answer is here, in a few sentences which will take a lifetime, and in fact all the history of the church, to work out. The church is to be rooted in scripture and active in mission. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations. The Bible always envisaged that when God finally acted to fulfil all the promises made to Abraham, Moses and the prophets, then the whole world would be brought into the embrace of God’s saving and healing love. That is what must now happen.” (NT Wright, Luke for Everyone).
By coming back, by having a physical resurrection Jesus is telling the disciples and us, that this is what awaits you. At the end of all things, everything will be made new. Everything will be brought back into loving arms of God, so go and tell everyone about it.
Nancy Ramsay writes, “Jesus’ ministry is not a cipher in time, an accident of history. No, Jesus insists, his life and ministry is continuous with God’s presence with humankind from the beginning. He embodies God’s deepest longing for us and all creation.” (Feasting on the Word). That longing is that everyone should know grace, mercy and love. That longing is that all of creation would be brought into harmony with God. That longing is that everyone would understand the promise that God has made with us.
We as the church continue God’s actions on earth that began in Christ. We do that by worshiping God, we do that by following the teachings of Jesus. Teaching that tells us to love one another, just as we wish to be loved, just as God love us. We fulfill God’s actions on earth by ministering to one another, visiting, providing reassurance, care and support. God’s promise to us in the resurrection is that there is more. There is so much more to come and it is good. Our promise to God is that we will keep the faith, that we will do the work, that we will proclaim God’s goodness and speak of God’s promises.
We are all to familiar with promises made and promises broken. We’ve all made a pinky promise or something similar and failed to live up to what that promise represents. I’ve done it, you’ve done. We are human and we are fallible. But God makes promises and God keeps promises. The resurrection is a promise.
If you remember one thing about the resurrection of Jesus, remember that it is God’s promise to each of us. It’s as simple as that, a promise that we can trust in.
You might be thinking that you know that and fair enough I imagine most of us do. But if the resurrection is God’s promise to us then what does God’s promise to you do to change you in the present time? How does God’s promise shape how you live? How does the promise you receive from God influence the promises you make?
Well friends, we are the living embodiment of God’s promise to all creation. As followers of Christ we are the ones who demonstrate to the world that God does not break God’s promises. That is why we go out into a broken world to offering healing and love. God needs us to act as God’s witnesses, not just on Sunday morning when we worship together, but every single day. Because all the world knows is the broken promises of politicians, big business, and failed icons. Our job is to demonstrate a different way, a promise that matters and which will endure. The resurrection is that promise. Amen.