Ascension Day follows the high drama of Holy Week: the palm-waving crowds, the last supper among friends, the betrayals, the scourging, the crucifixion and resurrection. All of those days are full of interpretation and meaning. But Ascension Day is rather vacuous of meaning. Jesus says to his followers,“Stay here. Wait. Wait until you have been clothed with power.”Why the wait? I think God is waiting for us, for you and for me, to say Yes with our own lives: our readiness or at least our willingness to co-operate with God for what God has in mind for our own lives.Dag Hammarskjöld, the great Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote in his diary just before Pentecost in 1961: “…at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”1 Say Yes to your own life. God is waiting for us to say Yes to our own lives, which will open up this channel of God’s power at work within us and through us.
Here’s what that Yes would mean:
- It’s God waiting for our willingness to be a channel of God’s power, a conduit of God’s power especially in those ways and places where we may be afraid. It’s to take Jesus’ often-repeated words at face value:“fear not,”“do not be anxious.” I think God is waiting for us to say Yes to his promise and his presence and his power.2
- It’s God waiting for us to say “Yes” to the forgiveness that Jesus offers us: to accept God’s forgiveness in our own lives, and then to be a channel of this same forgiveness to others, even if we are offended or insulted or disappointed enough times we may need to forgive them even seventy times seven?3 Say Yes to forgiveness.
- It’s God waiting for our preparedness to receive the peace which Jesus leaves with us to courageously, zealously be present in those places, with those people and in those relationships where there is conflict and unrest, which we could easily be tempted to avoid.5 It’s to say Yes to Jesus’ gift of peace flowing through our own lives.
- It’s God waiting for our preparedness to lay down our lives for our friends (and perhaps even our enemies) in the name of Jesus?4 It’s to very concretely, daily, give up the delusion that we possess our life, that our life belongs to us, but rather that our life belongs to God, to be used, and used up, as God wills. Life is like a grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die, every day, again and again if we are to be abundantly alive the way God intends and to bear the fruit that God desires.6 It’s our willingness to have our lives pruned by God.7
I think these days of waiting between the Ascension and Pentecost are not very much about our waiting on God. (Jesus already said from the cross that “it is finished.”) I think it is much more about God’s waiting on us: God’s waiting, not for our ability but for our availability, our availability to receive the power Jesus intends for us. To quote Dag Hammarskjöld again: “To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself.” Hammarskjöld says, “[say] Yes, even to that element in [ourselves] which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from fear and temptation into strength.”
Jesus is dying to hear us say Yes to the life we’ve been given, and then for us to be a channel of God’s power at work within us,even far beyond all that we could ask or imagine.
- Excerpted from Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964; p. xii.
- See, e.g., Matthew 6:25-33; Matthew 10; Luke 12.
- Matthew 18:21.
- John 14:25-27.
- John 10; John 15.
- John 12:24.
- John 15:1-2.
 John 19:30.
Hammarskjöld, p. 92.