7 Easter 12 Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Easter/BEaster7_RCL.html
Next week of course is the feast of Pentecost. This last week we celebrated the Ascension. The Ascension has become characterized as a feast day which is not widely marked. Somehow we don't know quite what to make of it these days. Does it make sense that Jesus was taken up into heaven? Why did he end his earthly ministry in this way?
Pentecost and Ascension are closely related. Jesus said, unless I go, I cannot send the Spirit (John 16.7). Why is this the case?
I think it is best explained by seeing Jesus as the New Adam. The New Adam did life right. Jesus did it correctly. The first Adam messed it up. He didn't do it right. He turned away from God. He became distracted by his own dreams and visions of grandeur. As the evil one told him, “You can be like God.” And he actually believed this. He wanted to run things his own way.
The new Adam, Jesus, on the other hand, went about doing things the way God wanted them done. He listened closely to the Father. He constantly relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He said, “I dont do anything unless I see the Father doing it.” He could see what the Father was up to. The Father was up to healing. The Father was up to teaching and guiding his children. The Father was up to finding lost sheep and carrying them home. The Father was up to extending his kingdom and his rule. So the new Adam, Jesus, went about doing this – thinking about God first and not about a personal agenda, if he could imagine one. The devil wanted him to.
Jesus was the New Adam and through his Ascension he was given his rightful place at the right hand of God where, as Scripture says, all dominion and rule was given over to him. At the Ascension he was established for us to see as God's right hand man. And a key word here is “man.” Now a man has done it right and that man is Jesus. He is like us. He is like Adam. He is the new paradigm or pattern for humanity.
This can seem somewhat abstract. But if we think about it in terms of Adam and of the Church which God creates through the descent of the Holy Spirit, it becomes more clear.
What was Adam's job? And for that matter, Eve's job? Their job was to tend the garden. They were supposed to be God's good gardeners. This involved doing the gardening well, doing it to perfection, with beauty and grace and competence and, most of all, with love. This was their job. They were God's agents in the garden.
Their role was actually much more elevated than the idea of gardener suggests. They were priests and kings. They offered their everyday work to God as an offering and expected him to bless what they were doing. They were kings in the sense that they were in supreme control over their tasks. They were in charge in concert, in partnership, with God. Kings in ancient times were always seen as God's representatives on earth. Who else was God going to work through? He worked through kings. They were his agents.
Now kings have had a sad history, as we know, and this idea became corrupted over time. But the basic idea holds true that God works through man, through us to accomplish his purposes. This why we are called a nation of priests and kings.
All this becomes corrupted by Adam and his descendants and it has to be put right. God begins this process through Israel and it will come to completion in Jesus.
One of the things God becomes interested in is Temple building. He wants to create a place that is holy, a place where his people can come back to him, be in communion with him and experience his presence among them. So he puts the urge within his chosen ones to build altars and to worship him. Eventually he gives his followers, through Moses, very detailed instructions about how to build a Temple.
The Temple was built as a model of the cosmos, of the world. We model our churches today on the ancient temples. There is a strict resemblance. In the Temple there was an outer court, which represented the earth. There was even a huge wash basin which was symbolic of the seas. Then one came to the inner court which was elevated. The inner court represented the mountains of earth, most particularly Mount Sinai. God met with his people on the mountain. Then finally there was the Holy of Holies, the very dwelling place of God on earth.
A short aside on the roll of clouds here. If you look at the world, a cloud is sort of the boundary marker between the seen world and the unseen world of the heavens. This is why clouds were associated with the presence of God. If a cloud was close by, God was close by. So when God descends upon the Temple, the Temple is covered with a thick cloud. When Jesus appears at his Transfiguration there is a cloud which covers him and the disciples. One of the neat things is we can make our own clouds. This is one of the roles of incense. We make the cloud. How cool is that!
The point this that the Temple is the place where God's people come to worship him and to experience his presence and to commune with God. This is why God was interested and is still interested in Temple building.
If the Temple is a model of the cosmos, when we are worshiping God, communing with God, we are in the midst of the world (earth, mountains, sky). So the Temple and the world are the same thing. When we are in the Temple we are worshiping God. When we are in the world we are worshiping God.
This is our role as the little New Adams, to do it right, just like Jesus did it right. Not only that, we are to be fruitful and to multiply as Adam and Eve did. The commission to Adam and Eve to expand God's rule was passed on to their descendants, the ones God chose for the remaking plan. So Abraham's descendants were to be more numerous than the stars. And so we received the commission from Jesus just before his Ascension to go and make disciples. It is the same commission that was given to Adam: Go forth and multiply and fill the earth.
We can't do this without help. And this is where Pentecost comes in. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot hope to do this work. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot worship right, without the Holy Spirit we cannot do Temple building right, without the Holy Spirit we cannot do gardening right, do our work in the world correctly and according to God's plan.
So we need Pentecost. We need the Paracletus to guide us. We need the Comforter to heal us when we experience difficulty in our mission. We need the Advocate to translate our prayers, the groaning of our spirits, to the prayers which ascend to Jesus at God's right hand.
Meanwhile, we have Jesus sitting at the right hand of God interceding all the while for us, pouring down grace upon grace, help upon help to get us to get the job done, this time the right way, just like he did.