God isn’t so high and lifted up that he can’t be bothered by us, except maybe to give us fifteen minutes of his day. God glorified himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, a poor Jewish handyman with no power except the truth. Just like the one God in three persons gave himself to himself in a perfect dance of love and glory, God gave himself to his children in Jesus Christ, and poured his entire life out for us when he was lifted up high on the cross. The glory of God is no distant, abstract majesty. The glory of God looks like a love so strong that it shows up on the streets of the downtrodden and the forgotten, down among the prodigal sons, the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and gets all mixed up with their hurts and their needs and their problems because they’re his sons, his daughters, and as long as their hearts hurt then the heart of God hurts too.
Why do we celebrate Ascension Day? The story almost seems a little cruel. Jesus had come back to his disciples from the grave, and the forty days he spent with them after his resurrection were a time of healing and joy and being filled up for the new mission Christ gave to his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples. But then, after just forty short days, he left. If Jesus is risen and alive, why doesn’t he stay down here with us? Given my experience of the church and probably yours too, I have no doubt that the church could use better management. Even if we believe that the pope is the Vicar of Christ, why not just give us Christ? Why can’t Christ stay around to overturn the moneychangers’ tables in the temple and tell off the Pharisees and the false prophets, tell us who’s right and who’s wrong in our endless disputes, and run off all of the scoundrels who dare to abuse and deceive God’s children in Christ’s name?
Worship does make us happier and more fulfilled and it should make us better and more moral, but worship isn’t primarily about any human purpose or earthly benefit. Worship is about God. We worship God for no other reason than that God is to be worshipped. We lift up our hearts because it is right and meet so to do. In worship we declare the worth-ship of God. We give God glory and honor because of who he is: the almighty and eternal God, dwelling from before time and forever, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Lord of lords, source of life and light, the lovely God of love, Beautiful Savior, giver of all good gifts, God of amazing grace. If we saw even for an instant just a fraction of the reality of God, we would fall down in awe and fear and thanksgiving, and then leap to our feet with joy, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
I have bad news: the Kingdom of God is not like Burger King.
Really, this is Good News, we might even say it’s the Good News, but just like the questioners in John’s Gospel this morning, I wonder if we often expect that the Kingdom of God, that the way of Jesus, that the call of the Cross, will be somewhat more familiar than it is, that the habits we’re called to take up would fit a bit more seamlessly into our lives as is, that the modes of thinking and talking and relating that God often inhabits himself would be a bit more accessible, comfortable, more common sensical to our current proclivities and desires.
Peter was not too proud to race to Jesus’ feet, Peter longed for communion and companionship and forgiveness and redemption, and in his longing, on the other side of the grave and death, God in Jesus Christ gave him exactly the thing for which he so longed, the thing that Peter must have been asking for in his heart every moment since his great betrayal, had been seeking in his every thought and action in the days following the trial and crucifixion, had been knocking at the door of God’s heart to receive redemption. And so as disciples ourselves, we are promised in the actions of Jesus written here, that we, too, will receive whatever restoration for which we long, that we will gain whatever forgiveness for which we strain, that we will enjoy whatever redemption it is that we seek, whether this side of heaven or the other.
In this morning’s Gospel passage, Jesus breathes on his disciples. It’s the way that the writer John expresses Jesus gifting the Holy Spirit to his followers. While we’ll celebrate Pentecost in June as the feast of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire and all… I want to sit this morning with the analogy of the Holy Spirit as breath. The words that Jesus uses around this strange action he takes give us clues to what’s happening here, and how we might understand Scripture and its underlying truth to continue to shape and determine our lives.
When Jesus appears to his disciples in the passage this morning, he says first, “Peace be with you.” When we take deep breaths, we slow our heart rates, we force our bodies to calm down, to enter a state of deeper peace, just like Jesus tells us.
What you and I celebrate here today certainly isn’t that we who walk the way of the cross are better than anyone else. We looked down and saw that the hammer and nails were in our hands, and the jeers of scorn and violence were on our lips. We have no righteousness of our own to commend. What we celebrate today is the final acceptance of defeat—the defeat of man, the defeat of God—and the final victory that was won in defeat and death’s darkest hour.
Have you ever wondered that his post-resurrection body still had nail marks in his hands and feet? That there was still a spear wound in his side? Why didn’t God, when he was drawing the breath of life back into Jesus human flesh, just wave his fingers and erase those scars, “good as new”? Wouldn’t it be better, less upsetting, more hopeful, to just ignore the recent unpleasantness and move on to the Easter brunches and egg hunts and chocolate overdoses without the bloody scabs of torture staring us in the face?