Today is Ascension Sunday, one of those days on the religious calendar which has fallen into disregard - even to those who follow the lectionary readings. Difficulties with the science of Jesus ascending into the clouds has allowed this important aspect of the life of Jesus to suffer from neglect, and as a consequence we have missed the inherent warning in the passage. “Why do you stand looking into heaven?”
The period following the resurrection was a disconcerting and exciting one for the disciples. Having watched Jesus be crucified and buried – along with their hopes and dreams – the growing realisation of the reality of the resurrection and its implications must have filled the disciples with a new heart and enthusiasm for the partnership they would share with Jesus in his ministry. For six weeks they were watchful for the resurrected Jesus, alert to potential encounters with him, and awaiting guidance on the way they might carry forward the mission of the kingdom of God. Little did they know they were about to “lose” Jesus again. Having suffered loss once, how would they deal with Jesus’ departure a second time?
in this context that the angel now speaks: “Why do you stand looking into
heaven?” The disciples’ focus and task was to be turned elsewhere.
It is ever the risk of those seeking to live an intentional spirituality to have our focus turned to ‘other-worldly pursuits’. The yearning for a better place, and an encounter with God, tempts us to believe that this can only take place through separation from this world, its events and pursuits. Nothing could be more contrary to the life and teaching of Jesus, whose continual engagement with this world and use of its imagery to convey messages of the kingdom is a hallmark of his life.
Amongst his last words to the disciples, Jesus told them that they would do greater works than he. Standing around with our mouths open and eyes to the sky will not enable us to do so. It was in the days following the ascension that Pentecost took place, and the demonstration of the power of God at work when we turn our focus to the world around us.
Thus the groundwork of our challenge as individuals and community: to know God amidst the world in which we live, and seeking to embody foretastes of heaven.
May 8, 2005