As they were watching, Jesus 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.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Later this week, we will observe the Feast of the Ascension, celebrating the story told by Luke in his gospel and in the book of Acts, the story of Jesus ascending into heaven. The feast falls 40 days after Easter, which means it’s always on a Thursday, one of the reasons it doesn’t get as much notice as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. I consider this feast to be underrated. Where would we be without it?
It’s important as a feast because it answers questions about what happened to Jesus, and where he is now, and how we should live in light of that. It opens the way for our understanding, our confidence, our hope that Jesus’ story is not just a matter of history. Jesus is is still very much with us and will be with us to the end of the ages. Our faith is more than memory.
No doubt about it, it’s a strange story which may also contribute to its underrated status. How do we make sense of it? It’s possible to get caught up in the logistics. Can modern people really believe that such a thing happened? What were the physics involved? Was gravity suspended?
Someday, maybe they’ll be answers for those logistical questions. For me, maybe the more important question is the one I imagine the disciples asked each other. They realize Jesus is gone, so what do they do now? How do they move forward? There may be times when we ask these kinds of questions.
What are the experiences that have caused you to ask: Where do I go from here? What’s next? Those kinds of questions surface when we’ve come down from a mountaintop experience, in the wake of exciting life changing events. A joyous occasion like a wedding or the birth of a child. A powerful spiritual epiphany. The same questions may come when we emerge from a valley. A relationship ends. You get fired, or experience betrayal. I’ll always remember being with a woman in the ICU as her husband of more than sixty years died. She looked up at me shortly after monitors indicated end of life and said: What do I do now? She was talking about a lot more than contacting hospital staff or funeral home.
Maybe you’re asking some version of these questions this morning. The questions are especially appropriate as we come out of Covid. This may be a season in our common life when we need the message of Ascension Day more than ever, as the feast causes us to ask: Where do we go from here? How do we arrive at a new normal? Like those disciples, we don’t know what lies ahead. It’s a pretty safe bet that our road ahead will take us to new places. New life will emerge but a lot will not be as we remember it. Maybe we’re nostalgic for a past that actually wasn’t as rosy as we wish it was. Maybe, just maybe, the old normal is not a place to which we ought to return.
The disciples heard angels’ instructions. They went back to Jerusalem. They stuck together. They prayed. They waited. They held on to promise. In due time, they experience the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, the powerful presence of the Spirit. Maybe there’s a word in there for us.
As we navigate emergence from COVID:
- How can we stay together in community, counting on each other for support? What community can you count on these days (even if it’s still on zoom)?
- How can we hold prayer at the center of our forward movement, recognizing our need for God’s gracious help? What will be your prayer? What will you ask for?
- How can we express our trust in the living Lord who promises that we will not be left alone? What promise from Jesus sustains you?
If we can do these things in this unusual season, maybe we can celebrate Ascension Day by saying that things are looking up.
Our Churches After Covid: Wednesday, May 12 at 7pm EST
- The Rev. Chris Harris, Associate Rector, Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield, Michigan
- The Rev. Edwin Johnson, Rector, St. Mary’s Church, Dorchester, Massachusetts
- The Rev. Marissa Rohrbach, Rector, St. Matthew’s Church, Wilton, Connecticut.
We’re grateful for the insights these three will offer, and we’ll make sure to have time for comments and questions.
RenewalWorks: Connect seeks to gather folks who want to continue to explore spiritual growth as priorities in their congregations. All are welcome.
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