Ascension Day  10

Tissot Ascension
James Tissot, Ascension (Brooklyn Museum)
Go Bear Witness & the Baptism with Fire

Opening Reflection

Jesus said to wait for the baptism – the immersion – of the Holy Spirit and then go and bear witness. For second century Jews who are accustomed to plunging their bodies into frigid water in preparation for making offerings by fire to God in the Temple, what did they think baptism with Spirit and fire meant?

 

Perhaps they had images of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of creation or at the baptism of Jesus. Perhaps they instinctively knew one is always washed and purified with water before lighting the fire on the Temple altar. "When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make offering by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die” (Exodus 30:20).

 

According to the Talmud, true baptism is an immersion in fire (Sanh. 39a). Rabbi Abbahu said to [the heretic]: He immersed in fire, as it is written: “For, behold, the Lord will come in fire” (Isaiah 66:15). The heretic said to him: But is immersion in fire effective? Rabbi Abbahu said to him: On the contrary, the main form of immersion is in fire, as it is written with regard to the removal of non-kosher substances absorbed in a vessel: “And all that abides not the fire you shall make to go through the water” (Numbers 31:23), indicating that fire purifies more than water does.

 

It was clear that the Spirit was expected in the last days. But did they expect that the fire would not only prepare them to enter the Temple but to become the Temple of God? For the presence of God to enter them? That it would empower them to complete the earliest commission to expand the glory of God and his holy presence through the whole world?

 

Surely, they anticipated the outpouring of the Spirit as the sign of “the last days” (Is 44:3; Ez 39:29; Jl 2:28–29), but the baptism in Spirit was more than a sign to be watched. For the Christian, bearing witness is not a passive spectatorship. It is the experience of and the participation in the coming Kingdom of God. It fills us with a sense of belonging to the family of God, purpose and significance in mission, and security and protection for the work at hand.

Scripture Reading

 

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Reflect: 

  • As you read the passage and reflection, notice what words or phrase stands out to you.

  • The author reminds the disciples that they bear witness to the many things that Jesus did and taught. Think back on your own life. In what ways have you witnessed the life of Christ?

  • Be my witness in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. What does it look like to bear witness to Jesus? Do you feel you need a specific ministry role, skill or title?​

Contemplate with Art:

  • As you look at the art, what draws your attention? 

  • Where do you find yourself in the scene? How do you feel as you witness this event?

  • Reflect on the call to bear witness.

Embodied Response:

Light a candle.

The Spirit of God fills us with a sense of belonging to the family of God, purpose and significance in mission, and security and protection for the work at hand. 

Talk with God about your sense of security, belonging, purpose as you bear witness to the life of Christ and participate in His kingdom.

 

Pray:

Almighty and ever-watchful God, Lord of the heavens above and the earth below.
Your Divine Goodness created us in love from every region of North and CentralAmerica:

from Fond du Lac and Topeka
Orange Walk and Dangriga
Denver and New Orleans
Merida and Arnold
St. Louis and Kansas City

Your Divine Wisdom placed us in the chaos and darkness of the twentieth century as:

poets and singers
engineers and schoolmasters
scholars and pastors
tailors and gardeners
builders and administrators
artists and lovers.

Your Divine Providence called us into the company of your son Jesus,

Therefore, we devote all our energies to your Divine Majesty

to bring order into our world, to make it fertile, and to bless it.

We pledge you the hours of our lives and the use of our deaths

through our King and Good Brother, Jesus.
Amen.

~adapted from a Concluding Prayer by Louis J. McCabe