Life to the full

We are celebrating the feast of the Ascension, the final event in the life of Jesus and the opening event in the life of the church. We can see three periods in the evolution of God’s entry into human history. First, there is the OT which really only gets going with the passage of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land.

For 40 years they wandered in the desert. It was not an aimless wandering but a time of formation. It had high moments, like the Covenant on Sinai, and low moments, like the fashioning of the golden calf. All the highs and lows were steps on a journey in the creation of God’s people.

The second period was when Jesus came among us. He also went into the desert for 40 days – a clear sign of continuity and fulfilment of the promises to Israel. His proclamation of the kingdom of God also met with highs – as when he was “filled with joy by the Holy Spirit” (Luke10:21) – and lows as when all his companions ran away when he was arrested in Gethsemane. All of this too was formative for the infant church.

So it is not surprising that there is a third period, inaugurated when Jesus showed himself to them after his resurrection for 40 (that number again) days (Acts 1:3). In this way he confirmed his companions in their mission. When the period was over, we are told, he “was lifted up while they looked on.” This is the final period in the history of the Church and the world and it is the time we are living in today.

These are the bare facts. But clearly we have to un-wrap this parcel of good news which “filled the disciples with joy.” (Luke 24:52) In the 5th chapter of Mark we have the story of Jairos’ daughter, a little girl aged 12 who had died. Jesus goes into the room where she is laid out and says to her in Aramaic, Talitha kum! Little girl, rise up! He is curing the little girl and giving joy to the parents – but he is doing much more than that.

He is giving a sign that he has come so that every human being “rises up.” The will of God is that his people and all creation reach their fullest potential – “life to the full.” The poet, Robert Browning, wrote, “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” In other words we cannot be satisfied with what we can grasp. We are made to reach further than that.

We know that there is a longing within us for more than we experience now. We may not be able to describe it. We may even get side-tracked into searching for ephemeral things, things that don’t last – more money than we need, power that gives us status, an excessive concern to look beautiful and smart. But if we go deeper we discover that the “more” we search for, the “more” that will satisfy us, is to do not with things but with values, especially human values of love and service. These are the things that satisfy our hearts – and prepare us for eternity.

So when Jesus says to us, Talitha kum, he is inviting us to rise up with him, to rejoice, as the disciples did, in the knowledge that we are capable of more than we think. There is nothing wrong with spending your life fishing in the Sea of Galilee but maybe you are called to something more, something that stretches you beyond your grasp, something that calls you to reach out to others and in doing so enables you to discover something about yourself that you never knew.

Post published in: Faith

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