As I write this on Thursday, May 13, 2021, just this past Thursday, I find this day an interesting intersection between our cultural secular lives and our ecclesiastical spiritual lives.
Here’s what I’m thinking. Probably most everybody heard the announcement today by the CDC that “as far as they’re concerned,” for those who are vaccinated for Covid-19, masks are no longer needed both outdoors and indoors and with gatherings of any size for both.
The “liturgical response” for this would simply be, as it is for many of our liturgical responses, an affirmative yet reverent “Thanks be to God.” Our less formal and non-liturgical brothers and sisters in The Faith might add a much more robust, “Praise the Lord!” Followed by a loud and unison, “A-men!” And our cultural and secular reaction to this declaration surely is at least a great big, “Woo-Hoo! Yippee! And a large variety of vernacular verbal exclamations that I cannot publish here.”
Whatever the spoken response to this great news, one thing we must be clear about concerning this. And that is that this announcement brings not only great freedom, but also great responsibility. It is now up to us, citizens of a free land, to grasp the responsibility to move forward with the task of making good choices that will continue the decline, and eventually bring to a full end, the grip of this tragic pandemic upon our individual and corporate lives.
Yes, indeed, this dual reality has always been, and will always be, one of the great ideals of our sovereign nation, that with great freedom comes great responsibility. Another one of our liturgical responses is, “We do, and we ask God to help and guide us,” which seems most appropriate here as well.
Keeping our focus on making still good and even better choices, I encourage us all not just to “get back” to where we were before the pandemic, but, as others have said before me, let us “move forward” to an even better tomorrow with a momentum from “lessons learned the hard way” and “we should have been doing this a long time ago.”
And, of course, I encourage us all to remember the need we have re-learned as we have “walked through the valley of the shadow of death,” the need of God in our lives, the need for us to maintain a close and vibrant relationship with Him through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, and our need to be a faithful and active member of a church that keeps us close to God and close to one another.
And now the “intersection.” Today, as it is every year on the Thursday of the sixth week after Easter, making it the 40th day after Easter, thus making it the day to mark the event of the 40th day after Jesus rose from the dead, is The Ascension of our Lord.
Yes, 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus gathered His disciples out on the hillside and spoke to them about His leaving them and leaving the earth He came down from heaven to redeem. His leaving was to go back to heaven from where He came. And He did just that, He ascended into heaven.
He was lifted from off the face of the earth and returned to heaven where, as we declare in the Apostles’ Creed, He sits at the right hand of the Father. To clarify, “the right hand of the Father” is not a location, but rather a proclamation of the place of honor for the Son who fulfilled the Father’s will to full and complete perfection, saving the world from sin, death, and the devil.
However, before He ascended, He left His disciples with some of His most important words that He ever spoke to them, and which also are some of His most important words for us, as well. Even for the marginal Christian believer, these words are probably familiar.
Right before He ascended, Jesus looked His disciples right in the eye, as we are now also those He looks right in the eye, and gives this “Great Commission.”
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.” Matthew 28:19-20
The work of Jesus Christ was to free the whole world from sin, death, and the devil. He accomplished that with His life, His death on the cross, and in His glorious resurrection. And what a marvelous and blessed freedom that provides for those of us who call upon His Name in faith and trust.
But here also we have a dual reality. With this great freedom comes great responsibility. Jesus has done it all for us by grace, by His love we neither deserve nor can we earn. What follows is our response and the responsibility He Himself has given us, to go to all the world and make disciples. To start in our family, our friends, our relationships with others in any capacity, and share with them the Good News of what Christ has done for them, and call them also into the fellowship of believers.
Of all the times in history, I believe there is no better and needed time than right now for us Christians to re-dedicate ourselves to this “Great Commission” of our Lord Jesus Christ. If ever there was a time when “sin, death, and the devil” seem to be at full strength, that time is now.
But we don’t need to despair or forfeit our responsibility. By the power of His own Holy Spirit, we are empowered daily to go about whatever simple ways we can to join with all Christians everywhere to turn the world to Christ.
The question is, “Where ‘in the world’ do we connect to Christ and become strengthened and empowered to fulfill His call to service?” In our local congregations, of course. Our churches are the “filling stations” for us to get re-filled with faith and power to do His Work. And, guess what? There is NO SHORTAGE of that fuel whatsoever! Get a “full tank” every Sunday!
Freedom and responsibility. Today, Thursday, May 13, 2021, is indeed a great intersection between our cultural secular lives and our ecclesiastical spiritual lives. So it is. Amen!
[Kollmeyer is Pastor Emeritus at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. Follow Pastor Scott Ness and this great church at www.princeofpeacefayette.org. Kollmeyer is also Interim Pastor at Word of God Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg. Find his weekly video recorded sermons at www.woglutheran.org.]