THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
“… why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Acts 1:11
The historic, bodily presence of Jesus has come to an end.
Those disciples who walked with him and talked with him and dined with him; those faithful ones who followed him and watched him heal the sick and cure the lepers and make the blind see and the deaf hear; those people who left family and jobs to listen to this son of a carpenter teach them to do such radical things as forgive 70 x 7, love even their enemies, feed the hungry, be servants to all – those very same ones now stand sadly in today’s first reading and look up to the sky as Jesus ascends into the heavens.
Now what do they do?
They’re in grief. They’re overwhelmed with loss. They’re overcome with a profound experience of abandonment and emptiness.
We’ve all had this feeling to one degree or another in our lives. All of us have lost some-thing or some-one that is treasured. Many times these are losses that have brought us to tears of deep sadness. Some have even triggered behaviors on our part that we now wish we could take back.
That’s where these people, the followers of Jesus, were on this very day that we now celebrate as the feast of the Ascension.
But notice that the angels in the story, the messengers from God, don’t let them stay stuck there. They jar them back into reality with a single question: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
Which, translated, means: This is no time to mope, no time to feel sorry for yourselves. There’s a great message of Good News to be preached and lived out.
And, don’t forget, Jesus made a startling promise: “You will receive a power from the Holy Spirit coming upon you. And you will be my witnesses … to the end of the earth.” That same Spirit will be available whenever two or three are gathered in his name; whenever we read Sacred Scripture; whenever we celebrate the Eucharist; whenever we feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit and care for the sick.
You are not alone, Jesus told his disciples over and over again. That terrible feeling of abandonment, Jesus assured them, would be fully addressed.
And it was.
In fact, that earliest community of people who dedicated themselves to the life and love of Jesus did just as the angels told them – and caught fire in the process, a fire lit by the Spirit. And that fire that came to consume them spread so quickly that within less than two hundred years most of the known world at that time became aware of a group called “Christians.” And, just think, they did it without anything like Facebook or Twitter or even a printing press!
When you consider there was no social media in those days, no TV or radio or anything other than a word-of-mouth means of spreading the message, it is truly remarkable how exciting and freeing the Good News of great joy was to so many people. For over two thousand years, in spite of sometimes very flawed and even shocking emissaries, this same message is presented to you and to me to this very day.
And that message is this: we are loved, not abandoned; we are cherished, not forgotten; we are treasured, not dismissed.
And it all happened because our God is Love, and, as the writer Maya Angelou put it: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
And so it did.
Our job is to pass that same message of Love on, to keep that fire that was lit at the Ascension so long ago burning brightly, to make the power of that Spirit as alive as it was when we were first told that “you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”
The question is still being asked of each one of us: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
The task of being a witness to God’s infinite love is right in front of us. Right here. Right now.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.