“People of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
Imagine the scene…
the disciples are agonized--
overcome by the brutality
of the crucifixion;
haunted by their own betrayals,
convicted by their weakness and fear,
mourning the loss
of their friend and teacher--
mourning the loss of their dreams.
And then, suddenly,
overwhelming joy and relief
as Jesus walked through walls
and held out his wounded hands to clasp.
Everything shifted into clearer focus.
Old ways of thinking took on new meaning.
Grief and loss had purpose.
Hope was possible, again.
He defeated death and rolled away the stone.
He defied Temple Priests
and conquered Roman Soldiers.
He could answer the mob
shouting for Bar Abbas.
Now, it was time!
He could reach for the glory of Kingship.
He could assume his place as Messiah.
He could fulfill the prophesies of Scripture
and the disciples would be there,
seated at his right hand.
“Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Will you drive the Romans from our land?
Will you take up the reins of government?
Will you step into Pilate’s courtyard
wearing a crown of gold
instead of a crown of thorns?
They still didn’t understand.
And so, when Jesus commissioned them
to preach the Good News
and then ascended into heaven,
the disciples stood in shock,
staring into the sky.
Why did He return, only to abandon us again?
How is our grief transformed, now?
Are we not still orphaned?
What is the point?
Medieval artists sometimes depicted the Ascension
by showing Christ climbing through the air,
or by painting only the lower half of his body,
leaving his legs dangling in the sky;
his torso already gone.
Some churches cut a hole in the roof
and hoisted a statue of Christ up through the ceiling
on Ascension Sunday
while the people shouted farewell.
But the Feast of the Ascension
isn’t a Feast of Absence.
It's not a Mass of Leaving
or Feast of Loss--
but a Feast of Presence.
The Ascension forges a new presence,
a new solidarity,
a new mission,
a new and deeper intimacy.
It brings new responsibility,
and a new path of discipleship.
The Ascension opens up a space
in which we can live transformed. (1)
It shows us a clear vision of our own future with God,
and reminds us there is work to do here
before we join Christ in heaven.
The Ascension doesn’t END the incarnation,
it expands the incarnation.
It allows the incarnation to remain
as yeast and leaven and Spirit,
deepening and enlarging our vision and faith.
"inaugurates we might call a double incarnation:
the battered body of Jesus is in heaven,
and the body of Christ-as-church
attends to battered bodies on earth.” (2)
“People of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
Look around you—
at each other,
at the broken beauty surrounding you.
This is your mission field.
Our Commission is deeply incarnational work—
a feast of presence;
a work of both Spirit and body.
Our Commission is the hidden work of yeast and leaven
and the visible work of baptizing,
holding out our own wounded hands
for others to clasp.
will eventually take us to people and places
that will surprise--
perhaps even shock us.
It will require courage,
and a certain bold spirit of adventure.
This Feast assures us that we will never travel alone.
St. Augustine said,
“You ascended from before our eyes,
and we turned back grieving,
only to find You in our hearts.”
look up at the sky if it inspires and consoles you.
1. Kelly, Anthony J. Upward: Faith, Church, and the Ascension of Christ, Liturgical Press, 2014