Fandom Forward Ascension
7th Sunday of Easter & Ascension Readings, RCL A
Have you ever been a new ‘fan’ of something? Brimming with the joy of the new experience that you just keep talking about it? Maybe it is a cafe or a sports team or a fictional universe. I wonder, have you ever heard of the group Fandom Forward? They began as the Harry Potter Alliance, young people so inspired and moved by the heroism and ideals of the novels that they formed hundreds of local do-gooder groups. Just because something isn’t everyone-s ‘thing’ doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful; just because something seems minor or weird doesn’t mean it cannot channel enthusiasm to change the world for the better.
Acts of the Apostles has a ‘fanatic’ rush of enthusiasm and the new fan’s sense of deep disappointment. Acts of the Apostles rises from the experiences of a mission was challenged to reach out, to let go and explore unexpected horizons. It is full of startling twists and predictable imperfections almost like a comic book. Acts of the Apostles begins before it begins in Luke, and even before and beyond that. You might recall that Elijah rode off on a fiery chariot at the end of his life. You might know that the Jewish tradition teaches that Moses ascended to God at the end of his duties. The artisan author of Luke and Acts (and most scholars believe it is the same person) has been lovingly tethering our experience of Jesus into the heart of orthodox ancient Judaism, while at the same time expanding it and sending it out into a wider horizon bright with a hope greater than anything worldly power can pretend. The focus of Christ’s ascension is on connecting what comes next with the rootedness of our tradition; it is on the lived experience, not on the physics. Like our center stained glass, it redirects our line of sight. This change pulls up our chins, raises our following of Jesus to the horizon, it focuses us on where we are going as we draw energy from those who have gone before us. What if the ‘up’ in this story is a metaphor, an invisible superhero cape? What if the ‘up’ is about showing us the redemptive way forward?
We are all fragile creatures, We are all confused and excited and still learning to love as God loves us. Jesus’ going beyond our sight must have been strange and hard to understand for the primordial church. Jesus had done such wonderful things and said such amazing things that they felt that they knew God’s very self in him. Then he was tried and executed, and then he rose from the dead. He was alive, eating with them and teaching them; and then he went away. If Jesus’ Nazarene incarnate body stuck around forever, it would have become a circus attraction. Not moving beyond that phase would have kept the wonder in one place, most likely extinguishing it. Whereas now we can know and accept and feel he is present everywhere. I don’t spend much time thinking about the physics of the Ascension, because, it is holy mystery. It is an expression of deep foundational love that loves us enough to dig our roots deeper and prepare us to go forward at the same time. Loving someone enough to let them go is sometimes necessary, and it is an act of love. It is also one of the many hard things that we who live on earth will have to do over and over again.
The positive life outcomes you imagine for your loved ones and our neighbors, these things are well nurtured in a rooted faithful community. Researchers have controlled for every other factor and nothing compares to the value of congregational teamwork and sacred practices. If it has been hard to learn this practice, or hard to re-learn it, keep your eyes on the horizon and keep trying.
Life together as the Church is more than Fandom Forward, but in some functional ways it shouldn’t be: people so excited by a good message that they respond with hands and hearts, even though it had not been done before. Furthermore, it is important to note that fandom that goes too far becomes the idolatry the prophets rail against. And fandom that divides and harms is an avenue of evil; while fandom that is lukewarm doesn't lift or connect. The same is true of discipleship and Christian activity. We, in the best parts of the journey of the church through the ages, we are a people who have been changed for good, and want to belong to each other and something greater than ourselves. We want to follow effervescent ideals in ways that crush hopelessness and loneliness and change the world for the better: the way to do this we know in Jesus. Nobody mentioned in Acts of the Apostles had any idea where the story was going. It was hard, but they kept going and changed the world in the presence of our Ascended savior: they were fandom-forward before there was fandom forward.