It checks out – Sermon for the Ascension

In the name of Jesus; amen.

When you go through the checkout line at Market Basket or Hannaford, on one side you’ll have an assortment of candies that you can purchase. There to tempt you into impulse buying, when you very well may stressed—or worse at the grocery store, when you’re hungry. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up a Snickers when I never intended to when I went in the store. Score product placement! Then on the other side, either at the end of the counter belt or above it, along with tabloids telling you about some imminent alien invasion, you most likely will see magazines that promise you “Seven Easy Hints to Shed Belly Fat” or “Three Easy Ways to Get Back to the Gym”—along with an attractive model who, when you look at them, makes you want to say, “Why are you going to the gym? You’re already done!”

So on one side, literally, we have sweet treats and other snacks tempting us to instant gratification through our taste buds, and on the other side, we have magazines that bombard with a subliminal message of our own bodily inadequacy. The conflicting message sent us is, “Buy this and feel great!” while simultaneously, “If you buy this magazine and follow these seven easy steps, you’ll look like this Aphrodite or this Adonis!” Either way, the message is clear albeit inexplicit…You need to purchase something to feel fulfilled.

Our culture bombards us with these kinds of messages. Advertising, even for things like candy or food that, let’s face it, oftentimes isn’t health food, is pushed by the good-looking and glamourous. Sometimes when I see an ad for some kind of snack or some restaurant, I think to myself, especially when they’re someone known for being attractive, “I’m willing to bet she’d never eat at Taco Bell.” Yet this ideal image of human beauty, the ideal image of the human body is used to lure us into buying things. Then the next commercial is for a weightloss program you can subscribe to and loose 10 pounds in a month!

The promise, if it’s not explicit, is that we too can be stunningly beautiful if we just buy this cream, if we just subscribe to this program, if we just go to this restaurant. It’s a marketing tactic, and from the looks of it, it’s working—at least for businesses. The truth of the matter is, though, it’s not working for average folks. We have a society that isn’t happy with how we look or how we feel. Not only do we look at ourselves and feel inadequate, but we also often despair about the prospect of ever looking adequately good or feeling sufficiently good. And that feeling just feeds back into the cycle that created it…a vicious re-cycling, again and again, of empty promises to solve problems created by those empty promises to begin with.

This, folks, is a tactic of the devil to lie to you about who you are. How so? Well, it’s the oldest lie he’s got, and it’s worked down through the ages. In the beginning, when Adam and Eve were in the garden, the serpent’s first deceit was to make Eve question if in fact she was indeed like God—although God most definitely says, “Let us create humankind in our image.” The serpent deceives, tempts, and convinces Eve into questioning God’s promise—our special likeness to God—and she disbelieves. And Eve spreads that deceit to Adam, who also falls for it lock, stock, and barrel. It worked then for Satan. And it keeps working to this day. We have the utmost trouble believing that we are created in the image of God, that he loves us, actually loves us, and means exactly what he says. It’s literally the oldest trick in the book, and it’s the best—or might we say, the worst?—and it works.

So what’s all this got to do with the Ascension? Well, the thing about the Ascension is that Jesus goes back to heaven in his human body. We can talk about what it means “to ascend,” in light of the reest of the Biblical witness, but let’s save that for another time. Suffice it to say today, Jesus ascends to heaven, not as a spiritual being, but as a human being. And the thing about Jesus’ human body is that it went through everything it means to be human. He was born. He lived a life—as a carpenter’s son, so we can assume he helped his dad out, at least for a little while, doing carpenter things. So he, without a doubt, got hurt. Maybe hit his thumb with a hammer a few times. He fell down as a kid and scrapped his knees—like all kids do. He laughed. He cried. He ate. Drank. Slept. Laid awake at night.

And in his full humanity, Jesus also suffered. He was whipped and paraded through the streets of Jerusalem with a heavy crossbeam laid across his back. He was stripped naked and laid on that beam and had nails driven into his wrists, and through his ankles. He was hoisted high for everyone to see his naked shame, laid bare in agony to die. He was wounded—wounded through and through, completely and utterly. He did not escape it, as some might say through some divine escape artistry, but went through it as wholly God, but also as wholly human on that cross. And we know that when he was resurrected, he still bore the scars of his suffering, of his death—because he shows his hands and side to the disciples, most memorably to Thomas. Even in resurrection, even after he conquered death and the devil, Jesus still bears the marks of his pain that led to him to victory.

Many of us believe that when we die, when we “go to heaven,” we’ll get different bodies. And while St. Paul does speak of our glorified bodies, we don’t trade this body for one that’s somehow aligned with the societal ideal. We don’t all look like Aphrodite or Adonis when we enter into the heavenly Jerusalem. But yet we are glorified in the same way that Christ is glorified. Our resurrected bodies, in their glory, will nonetheless still bear upon them everything that makes us who we are—all the lumps and bumps and scratches and scrapes.

But that’s good news for us. Those lumps and bumps, scratches and scrapes don’t remove us from the perfection of God’s kingdom. In fact, God takes us into his loving embrace just as he takes Jesus—with everything that we might see as imperfections. Our humanity is not something to escape, but is precisely something that God has called very good. It’s what makes us…us.

And add to that, we are created in the image of God, and that is a promise that, although this world and its ruler, the Prince of Darkness, purveyor of lies par excellence, Satan himself pushes time and again—it’s a promise that although we’re bombarded over and over again into questioning, is as real as the wounds in Christ’s wrists, ankles, and side. Those wounds are tokens, signs of God’s love for us and his promise that although this world tell us we are imperfect, that although we might even sometimes believe we are inadequate or don’t measure up, nothing will separate us from his love. And just like Christ, who though scarred with wounds wrought from sinfulness, we too will enter into the joy, bliss, and glorious beauty of the kingdom of heaven.

And that, my friends, is a clear, explicit message that checks out.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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