When Jesus ascended, the disciples stood gazing at the heavens in wonder. A man asked them why they were looking at the heavens. Our work is before us, not above us. Jesus came to show us how to live, to be his hands and feet in the world.
Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
The Ascension of Our Lord
texts: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53
The peace of the risen Christ be with you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What a time, Jesus’ friends were having! They had lived and traveled and worked and eaten with Jesus for several years, before he was taken from them and hung on the cross to die. And then, Jesus rose from the dead and came back to them, just when they had given up hope. The disciples are not sure what is going to happen, as Jesus is preparing to leave again. They had seen him several times over the 40 days since Easter, since the day Jesus rose from the dead. And now he is leaving for good. Jesus didn’t overthrow Rome before he died, and the disciples wonder and ask if maybe now he is finally going to restore justice to their world. The disciples still don’t seem to fully understand what Jesus has been doing, all this time.
Jesus responds to their question by telling them that God’s timing is not for them to know, but THEY will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes. He tells the disciples to wait until they have received the Holy Spirit, and then go and share the good news with the world. Jesus did not come so that HE could set things right. Jesus came, and died, and rose again, so that WE might live as Jesus did, so that WE might be empowered to do justice and mercy in this world.
And after Jesus has ascended, the disciples are still sorting through everything that has happened, all that Jesus has told them, as they stare at the place in the air where they last saw Jesus before he disappeared from view. And as they stand there, they get another message about their mission. “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.” Jesus has gone, and he is coming again, but the real news lies before the disciples, not above them.
The real news for us, too, lies before us, not above us. The promise is there, and we live in hope, knowing Jesus will come again. We know what Jesus did and said while he was here. Our mission is to live as he did, actively, with love, engaged in what is happening in the world in front of us. Our mission is to understand and live knowing that Jesus is all around us!
We are called to look for Jesus among our neighbors. We are called to see Jesus in the man who comes to Mount Olive asking for a laundry voucher. We meet Jesus in the fellow community member learning of a cancer diagnosis. Jesus is among the people of Nepal living in grief for those they have already lost to earthquakes, and living in terror that more will die. We don’t look up to find Jesus, we hear Jesus in the person on the other end of the phone at the pharmacy when we call to renew prescriptions, we see Jesus in the mail carrier delivering our mail. Jesus comes to us every day in our co-workers and classmates, our spouses, our children.
Like the disciples, we can easily forget this simple truth: we find Jesus in everyone we meet, and we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, working for justice, caring for those around us. Fortunately, like the disciples, when we forget, we are reminded. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” And the Holy Spirit inspires and empowers us to do what Jesus is calling us to do: go, share the good news. Jesus is alive. Jesus is coming again. And in the meantime, we have work to do, seeking Jesus in the world, doing the work of Jesus in this world.
Today, we stand with the disciples, saying goodbye once again to Jesus-in-flesh-and-blood, re-focusing on what Jesus has taught us, and what we are called to do. On this feast, it is tempting to look at the place we last saw Jesus, rising to God. It is tempting to ask ourselves and each other, when is Jesus coming again? Where, and how? Is this the time when God will finally heal the wrongs of this world? Together with the disciples, we get our answer: “It is not for us to know the day or hour. Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
Because Jesus died and rose, we won’t ever be alone, even though we will not physically see him anymore. Today, we anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, knowing that through the power of the Spirit Jesus will be with us wherever we go, empowering us to do his work in this world. We can, with the disciples, be joyful and expectant, knowing Jesus will come again. And like the disciples, we are sent out from here to carry on the work of Jesus wherever we are.
Jesus’ Ascension is not the end of his work in the world. It is just the beginning. Jesus’ life, teaching, preaching, healing was all to prepare us. Jesus has shown and told us what we are to do, after his Ascension. Have we been listening? Are we looking ahead of us, or are we still looking to the sky? Listen to the voices saying, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Jesus is coming again, we don’t know when and where and how. In the meantime, let us go out and carry on the work he has given us to do.