. Ascension Day (Observed).19 “What’s Up with Christ’s Ascension?” Acts 1, Luke 24
So, our readings for Ascension Day (Observed) leave me with two questions: one from the first reading, one from our Gospel. Now, you may have more questions—and if so, feel free to ask me later!, but I think you’ll find that answering my two probably answers the Biggest One (which is: “What’s up with Christ’s Ascension?” (see what I did there? 🙂 so here we go… Question #1, which is the angels’ question for the disciples as they were standing staring up into the sky after the Lord’s Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?” That’s a good question! (It’s why it made the bulletin cover 🙂
And Question #2 is from the end of our Gospel reading, which is kind of a department of redundancy department on the First Reading, where it says, after Jesus was visibly parted from them and carried up into heaven, that “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.” That’s my second question: “Why are they so happy?! Usually, when Jesus is taken from their sight they are very bereft and sad, these guys, like little puppies lost in a Walmart parking lot. So, they see Jesus apparently abandon them and they’re happy? They are praising and blessing God for this? Why?
Good questions, right? I’m happy you think so too. I think if we get answers to these we’ll probably get what’s up with the Ascension. As far as the first question, it seems, at first glance, understandable why the apostles were staring into heaven. My first instinct is to think the stupidity (if there is any here) is with the angels’ question not the apostles’ sky gazing! Because, like Duh! the Ascension?! Jesus just floats up into the sky and disappears in a bright cloud a few hundred feet up!? You would stare too, right? In your life, have you ever seen anything like this?!
OK, weird stuff has been happening with Jesus, lately. First, He dies on a cross, is buried, and three days later shows up resurrected, alive, well, very chill, same, but oddly different? He eats Post breakfast cereal (which I didn’t know they had back then, but I read, end of Luke, that when Jesus appeared to them Easter Sunday evening in the Upper Room and they thought He was a ghost, He proved He was still the same flesh and blood Jesus by eating some Honeycomb™ (and I do like Honeycomb cereal, too) and fish. An odd combination, but there you go!). So, not a ghost, but not exactly obeying all the laws of physics, space, and time like He used to do pretty reliably.
OK: the apostles saw some strange things with Jesus, for sure. But still: how, exactly would His previous miracles of healing, water-walking, wine-turning, from-the-dead-rising, stone-wall-passing through, apparating—how would it all lead you to predict something like the Ascension, exactly, or be all blasé about it, all: “oh, yeah. An Ascension into heaven. OK. Well, nothing more to see here, folks. What should we do for lunch?” Right?! Even if you’ve seen some stupendously strange things lately, how would it not still shock you to see your Friend Jesus float up (with no wires or rocket pack or anything) into the sky, and then disappear in a bright but unearthly cloud? Tell me you wouldn’t stare for a while!!!
You would stare. I would stare. Any normal person, even after seeing the resurrection stuff and all would still stare up into heaven for a bit, after seeing Jesus ascend. You’d be like “Is He gone? Is He coming back? How did He do that? What does this mean? Is that Him, way up there? No? Are you sure? What about there? Nope, just a drone or a weather balloon? You sure? You’re probably right…”
Which is why it seems, at first, it’s the angels asking a dumb question: “Why do you stand gazing up into heaven, all open-mouthed and awe-struck like that?”, rather than, strictly speaking, the apostles doing another dumb thing (and I know, they did lots of dumb things, but do you think their staring into heaven thing was that stupid, really)?
And, the answer the answer to the angels’ question is… well, honestly: I struggled for a good one-liner (because, really it’s a rhetorical question) so maybe best to simply rephrase their question: “Jesus is God! What do you expect? Why should His Ascension surprise you? You don’t look really smart staring up into the sky with your mouths hanging open. Maybe you should adopt a different posture!?” I think the angels are tweaking the disciples. They’ve been with Jesus three years. Didn’t they get it on the first day with the miraculous catch of fish, or the next week, with the water-to-wine thing, or the week after that with the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, the Word of Power He spoke like no one else that this Guy is God, incarnate?!!! The Lord of Heaven and Earth? No? What’s wrong with you, then?! He died and rose, for Christ’s sake! He told you that would happen well in advance! And He’s been telling you for weeks! that He will ascend into Heaven.”
So I guess the open-mouthed sky gawk is another dumb thing we did.
“Where else should God go but to heaven, anyway, right? What? You think there really is a literal stairway to heaven that you can just walk up to get there? Those Led Zep guys did a lot of drugs, OK? Good song, but not reliable information about how one actually gets to heaven! (Fly, then apparate. Duh!). He told you, on Easter Sunday, not to try to hang onto Him in this form because He would be ascending into Heaven, to His Father and ours. Did you think it would not happen in a marvelous Way? OK! Stop gawking, and get back to the worshiping and praising thing that He told you was The Thing now, always. Because in that worshiping, praising, blessing, Divine Service thing, heaven comes down to us on earth and Jesus is with us, always.”
Which kind of answers my second question too, right? They were standing, open-mouthed, gazing into heaven because they still didn’t quite get that Jesus is God and Heaven is His home and ours! Angelic sarcasm provides that little face slap that they needed to get on with it, already…
And this is why they return to Jerusalem with great joy: because they see, they believe, they finally get it: Jesus is God! He died to take away our sins. He rose for our justification and eternal salvation. He’s done it all for us! His Resurrection is ours. His new glorified body and powers are a preview of what we shall be after our own physical death! His Ascension is a preview of our own as well. Since Heaven is His Home and He has made us One with Him by Word and Sacraments through Faith alone, we too will Ascend with Him at Last and have free run of the heavens in the same supernatural and delightful Way Jesus has!
To be impervious to death. To be on a first-name basis with God. To be His friends, brothers, sisters. To have the run of Paradise as lords ourselves. This is the whole point of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension!: we are watching a preview of how our own bodies will be transformed like unto His glorious body. What He is, we shall be also (and, by faith, already are!). Fliers. Super-power-wielders. Heaven-dwellers. Most-favored friends of the King…
What’s up with Christ’s Ascension? Well, simply put: we are! Jesus blazes our trail to Heaven; and now, by Word, Sacraments, Faith alone, worshiping Him: we are rising up with Him where Peace surpassing understanding guards hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.