Ascending into Action

Ascension Window (Detail of lower portion) by Edward Burne-Jones, St. Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham

Thoughts for Ascension Day.

We celebrated Ascension Day on Thursday and this Sunday we linger on what Christ’s Ascension might mean.  To speak of Jesus ascending is not to speak of a geographical or directional movement. He is not up any more than he is down. He is with God and within God.  In that God is everywhere and within us, the ascension of Jesus is a way of saying that Christ is with us, that he is not off, away somewhere in a heavenly court. As Saint Augustine puts it, “[Jesus] did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven.” Jesus brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, two angel-like characters appear to the disciples just after Jesus has ascended.   They ask, “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” Why, indeed? Perhaps the disciples thought this was the end. Maybe they thought the show was over, the adventure done. The disciples were human, very much like some of us.

Hesitating and looking into heaven for an answer often seems very natural. As much as I might hope to follow Jesus, I often do the spiritual equivalent of standing still, hesitating, and looking off into space. I wonder where God has gone and wait for him to come back and fix things. I don’t forgive others because I wait for Jesus to forgive them for me. I don’t say I’m sorry because I hold on to the belief that at some point there will be some perfect moment, some exceptional time when it will feel “right” to apologize. Sometimes we might hesitate to stop a habit or check an addiction or resist a recurring temptation, pretending that God will tell us when it’s really time to stop. Perhaps we wait for God’s hand to pick us up and put us in new place rather than having to make difficult decisions, or we simply carry around in our pockets deep dreams and deep secrets about what we might do, or what we might be, one day.

The Ascension of our Lord asks us (among other things), “What are you waiting for? Why do you stand looking into heaven?” Jesus has ascended to the Father. Now it’s our turn to heal, to feed, to love, to minister, to challenge, to grow, to offer peace – it’s our time to be the Body of Christ in the world.

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