Signpost for Sunday 28th May, 2017: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14; John 17:1-11.
Luke had an excellent way of telling his historical stories. He not only applied himself to getting the context right, but he also managed to make them interesting to read.
The passage from Acts is given the heading The Ascension in bibles which have added notes, but, when reading it I get the impression that this is not its central emphasis. The actual departure of Jesus was obviously rather difficult to describe. How could one describe someone moving into a different space with a different expression of the relationship with the disciples? Luke does his best, but I suspect we have all seen artists’ impressions of Luke’s word with Jesus disappearing in to a cloud. My own impression is that the disciples lost sight of him: their perception failed to keep track of him, and the best Luke could do was to find a symbolic representation of the fact.
Be that as it may, Luke does not seem to make this puzzling, one-off event the central feature of the description of what he writes in this context. He is much more concerned with the words that were spoken. When the disciple asked for detailed information about the purpose of God, Jesus basically tells them that is not our business, your job is to be witnesses to me over the whole world, starting here. It seems that he is using this statement as a form of outline for his book, mapping one of the ways the faith spread over the world.
Then there is the promise of the Spirit, and the short journey back to Jerusalem, and the devotion to prayer. The list of the people who were there included the remaining eleven disciples, some women, the mother of Jesus and his brothers. This last statement is interesting, in that Matthew and Mark tell us that at least the brothers did not believe in him, but now they stayed with the disciples. Jesus, from the cross, asked one of his disciples to look after his mother, not leaving that duty to his brothers. Jesus obviously grew up in a family, with brothers. He knew the rough and tumble of family life, and the effects of separation. Paul later lets us know that, after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his brother James, who later became the leader of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. Perhaps in the last phrase of the passage including Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers we find an early example of the power of the risen Christ to reconcile and unite.