A simple question: What does it mean when we say that Jesus ascended to heaven?
It turns out that this simple question might immediately be broken into smaller questions: what did it mean to the Twelve in the Gospel of Luke – the only one to describe the scene?
And what did it mean to the faithful in the history of the church as described in the Book of Acts?
And what did it mean to Paul, writing to the Ephesians?
And what does it mean for us?
You see? Simple, and complicated, all at once.
Luke’s is the only gospel to spell out the scene of Jesus’s ascension. Mark says nothing of it – because for Mark, the life of Jesus that matters is the baptism, death, and resurrection of the Christ.
Matthew and John assume the ascension but do not describe it, because for Matthew, the narrative climax is the resurrection, while for John, the narrative climax is the crucifixion.
But for Luke, whom we believe also wrote the book of Acts, the ascension is critical to the narrative. And the solution there, also informs our reading of the other lessons for the day.
Biblical scholars generally agree that Luke and Acts are two volumes of the same book, written one after the other, so that both are giving us a look at the community of faith immediately after Jesus. And so in both Luke and Acts, we find people living with the expectation of Jesus’s return really soon.
Like the old song says: “Any day now, any day now, any day now: I shall be released.” So the clear expectation was that they would see Jesus again with them, just as everything had been before. These were people of faith, followers of the Jesus Way, keeping things together and aiming for new followers, only until Jesus came back – which would be really soon. Any day now.
The feeling and the mood that governed the actions in community were similar to the feeling and the mood that governed Paul, as a regional bishop, writing to his mission churches in places like Ephesus, that is, the letter to the Ephesians.
That Jesus would be back really soon.
Any day now, any day now, any day now – I shall be released.
Paul and his churches, trying to live in community, waiting.
Just as we today are trying to live in community, only several thousand years after Jesus’s life on earth.
You know, when I was making notes for today, by hand, on a legal pad, I started to write “in community” and what my hand wrote was “immunity.”
Which is when it occurred to me.
“In community” ≠ “immunity.” In community does not equal immunity. Just the opposite.
“In community” never means being immune to our problems or our life’s problems or the problems of our city, our county, our state, our country, our world. And being “in community” does not mean impatience for, “Any day now, any day now, any day now, I shall be released.” Being in community is who we are while we wait for that “any day now.”
Being “in community” means that we are vulnerable to, and that we are open to receiving, all the things.
Being “in community” means that we are the opposite of immune. Being in community means that we feel everything – we feel our own daily living and also other people’s daily living.
We feel the surgeries – and we feel the love. We feel the grief and pain of loss – and feel the pride of a granddaughter’s journey toward ordination. We feel all the feelings. Our own, and our neighbors’. Our own, and those of strangers whose school was damaged by a tornado. We feel our own pride and our own joy in being part of the North Carolina Synod and the ELCA, and the pride and the joy of synods electing new bishops, including the Rev. Patricia Davenport – the first female bishop of color in the ELCA.
We feel the excitement as we approach the yard sale. And we feel the ambiguity of being the people of God at St. Michael, who have had pastors before me and might well have pastors after me and who are one of many communities where we are the love of God for one another, while we wait.
We are, as it turns out, different from and exactly like the people of Luke’s Gospel and the people of the Book of Acts and the people in the church in Ephesus who received Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Whether “any day now” is right now or “any day now” is several millennia away – on that day, we shall be released. And this is what life looks like, this is what the church looks like, this is what love looks like, while we wait.
 “Any Day Now,” Bob Dylan, 1967, © 1967, 1970 by Dwarf Music, © renewed 1995 by Dwarf Music.