Ascension Day 8
Cristo Redentor, Brazil
Love of Power or Power of Love?
♱ Opening Sentence
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. HEBREWS 4:14, 16
♱ Opening Reflection
We live in an age that is dying for power, and that is, in fact, dying of power. . . What should the follower of Jesus do in a world like this?
. . . The Church is often tempted to think it can simply beat the powers of the world at their own game, by using the cross as a symbol of earthly victory. Followers of Jesus sometimes imagine that the victory of their cause is all that matters, whatever means they use to that end. But that is a travesty of the whole meaning of the ascension, and of the cross and resurrection which give to the ascension its depth and resonance. God’s exaltation of Jesus vindicates not only him and his cause, but his way; and that way is the way by which his followers too must walk.
The power of God, says St Paul in 1 Corinthians 1, is therefore revealed in human weakness, supremely in the weakness of Jesus. At the heart of the Christian gospel stands the ridiculous paradox that true power is found in the apparent failure, and the shameful death, of a young Jew at the hands of a ruthless empire. Why? Because there are more dimensions to reality than just the ones we see and know in our own space and time. Heaven, God’s space, is the present but unseen reality.
. . . Jesus himself, no abstract principle but a human person, is now exalted as the still loving, still giving, still generous Lord, to whom one day every knee shall bow, and whom we are today summoned to follow.
The twist at the end of the story comes when St Paul writes (Ephesians 1.20-23) that the power which raised the crucified Jesus from the dead, and which exalted him in triumph in God’s own space, ruling over every other authority and every human power — this same power is what God now wants to exercise through his people. . . God’s power is not manipulative, does not crush or squash human beings, but rather ennobles and fulfills them, God now longs that we, his children, should take our own part in implementing his victory, the victory of the power of love over the love of power, throughout his creation.
Those who commit themselves to following the ascended Lord Jesus are thereby signing on for this task. The areas in which we are called to do this are as many as the areas of human concern. We must work and pray that the power of love, the wise and gentle and healing rule of genuine humanness, will be exercised over the created order. . .
Jesus, at his ascension, was given by the creator God an empire built on love. As we ourselves open our lives to the warmth of that love, we begin to lose our fear; and as we begin to lose our fear, we begin to become people through whom the power of that love can flow out into the world around that so badly needs it. That is an essential part of what it means to follow Jesus. And as the power of that love replaces the love of power, so in a measure, anticipating the last great day, God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. We will not see the work accomplished in all its fullness until the last day. But we will, in following Jesus, be both implementing his work and hastening that day.
- NT Wright (“Heaven and Power,” excerpted from Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship)
♱ Scripture Reading
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
As you read the passage, notice what words or phrase stands out to you.
Notice the tone and greetings Paul is extending to the community in Ephesus. What kind of relationship do you think he has with them?
NT Wright notices the irony of how Jesus displayed power through love. The Ascension of Jesus calls us to exercise the power of love in the areas of human concern. Where do you notice the love of power and the power of love at work in your life?
♱ Contemplate with Art:
This massive statue of Christ with arms open wide is situated on a mountain overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. What kind of power does does this image represent to you?
Do you notice a longing to visit this statue? Have you visited? What draws you to it?
How might you follow the ascended Christ in exercising greater love?
♱ Embodied Response:
NT Wright suggests that the ascended Christ draws our attention not up and away but calls us to the concerns of humanity. What are the concerns that you long to see the victorious power of Christ's love extend throughout his creation?
Stand and stretch out your arms like the statue of Jesus. As you stand in the image of this image of Christ, bring to His throne the concerns of the world. And ask for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
~BCP Collect for Mission