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Easter 7A 1st Reading

Acts 1:6-14

Rick Power

I can’t tell you how much I admire the restraint of Jesus in this final earthly meeting with his apostles. Of course, the Eleven don’t know that their Master is about to vanish from their sight. If they had known that this would be their final conversation with Jesus in the flesh, they might have chosen a different topic. Or, maybe not. Their question is exasperatingly familiar: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” We might expect the Lord to say, “Friends, really? After we’ve been together so long, after you’ve witnessed God’s power raise me from death, do you still think the kingdom is only about Israel?” But there is no rebuke or impatience in Jesus’ reply. He simply states that it is not for them to know the times and periods—the chronos and the kairos—that the Father has set by his own authority.

The disciples have argued loudly and frequently about who among them was the greatest. They have dreamed of places of power at the right & left of King Jesus’ throne. They have never quite grasped that the kingdom that has drawn near in Christ is utterly different from the kingdoms of this world. Jesus is not perturbed about this. He knows that the Spirit of truth will be an effective teacher in the lives of his followers. And that Spirit is coming soon. The disciples are interested in power and they’re about to receive it. But the power that the Holy Spirit will bring is not the power of a political regime. Rather, it will be power to bear witness to Christ, starting at home, in Jerusalem and Judea, and extending outward to Samaria and the ends of the earth.

The first disciples’ confusion about the nature of the kingdom is repeated often in the history of the church, right down to the present day. In every age, we need to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. The Spirit, like the wind, “blows where it chooses,” said Jesus. The Spirit comes to liberate us from false understandings that would confine God’s saving activity to our places, our people, our polity. Left to ourselves, we sabotage the Spirit’s work by our parochialism, denominationalism, nationalism or any “ism” that lifts human agency above God’s power. But “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17) No wonder Jesus told his disciples not to make a move until they had received the Holy Spirit. Someone has said that the Book of Acts is the account of the church trying to catch up with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit compels the disciples to cross racial, religious and national boundaries to be Christ’s faithful witnesses. It will be a wild and adventurous ride.

And, then, Jesus is gone . . . taken up into a cloud, not to be seen again. After forty days of “present[ing] himself alive to them by many convincing proofs,” the Lord is suddenly lifted from their presence. The scene has a touch of humor, as the eleven apostles, craning their necks and squinting into the sun, are startled by the voices of two white-robed men, who ask them why they’re staring at the sky. “This Jesus,” they explain, “who has been taken up from you into heaven, will