Today is Ascension Sunday and I, like some others, have always found today a bit strange.
The incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus I get. They show how God would enter into the mess of humanity in order to redeem us and reconcile us (and all things) to himself. They show just how far he was willing to go to show his self-sacrificial love for us and overcome death and the grave once and for all.
But Ascension Sunday … God, why have you left us alone?
I have heard many compelling teachings about how Jesus’ ascension is his assuming his role as ruler; God has become king – and I get that and agree with it. I have heard more stories about how Jesus had to leave in order for the Holy Spirit to come – and I don’t necessarily get that, but I can go along with it.
But I still sometimes wish he could have stuck around a bit longer and perhaps helped us avoid many of the pitfalls we have run into consistently over the years.
Today; however, something struck me as I was listening to the sermon in church. We focused on the following portion of Acts 1;
As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky?” (Acts 1:10-11)
Now this seems like a simple passage. Two men in white clothing – let’s call them angels – ask a simple question; why are you looking up into the sky? The answer seems pretty obvious as well. They did just watch a guy float off into the air and disappear in the clouds. Who wouldn’t be looking up and trying to figure out what just happened.
But this question is not here to simply be answered. In fact, this is the second time Luke has used this type of question to remind people of something. In his first letter – Luke – he writes after the resurrection;
While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood beside them in dazzling attire. The women were terribly frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised! Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:4-7)
Same type of scene. Same two men. Same type of question.
It seems Luke is using these type of questions to remind us of what Jesus had said would happen. In the case of the resurrection, he is basically saying “He is risen just like he said he would”.
In the case of Ascension Sunday, Luke is reminding us of something else. In the verses just proceeding his ascension, Jesus had told his apostles that they would receive power from his Holy Spirit, which would come alongside them everywhere they went and they would be sent out to the ends of the earth to witness to who Jesus was and what he has done and will do.
We have a role to play from here on in.
The question serves to remind us that we are the way God now works in the world and we have a job to do. It is no time to stand around staring at the sky – earth requires our attention.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
“Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?”
“Why do you wait? Begin to self-sacrificially love others and I will be right there with you, in you, and working through you.”
That to me is what Ascension Sunday is all about; God has become King and is delegating his authority to each and every one of us to spread his rule far and wide.
Let’s keep it spreading!