“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
On the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, we celebrate the beginning of the end of the fifty-day Season of Easter. The last surge of joy before it all erupts into a blazing fanale at Pentacoste. With the apostles, we stand at the summit of the Mount of Olives and watch as Our Savior ascends to heaven on a cloud. Floats up to heaven on a cloud, no less! Personally, I always thought that was a little dramatic. And also a little selfish. I mean, why didn’t he just stay here with us? Why didn’t he just hang around for another couple thousand years, just to make sure that we got all the doctrinal fine points straightened out? We could have avoided the Reformation altogether. The Great Schism. The Inquisition. Maybe some of the nastier bits of the Crusades. Why didn’t he just stick around a little longer?
These are the sorts of thoughts I always have when the Feast of the Ascension comes around. And I like to think that they’re the sort of thoughts that were going through the apostles minds as they stood, bewildered and abandoned, looking up at the sky. “Is he really gone?” “Is he coming back?” “Should we just wait here?” “Maybe he just left something up there and he’s coming right back down again.”
These thoughts, of course, miss the entire significance of Christ’s act. But they’re not unreasonable in lieu of the fact that Pentacost has not yet arrived. The apostles do not yet have the spiritual insight that they will have once they are baptized in the Spirit. They don’t see—as we do (or should)—that Christ had to leave us FOR OUR OWN SAKE. He had done what he came to do. Born his witness. Founded his Church. Now it was time for us to take over.
Yet the apostles stand limp-handed and stoop-shouldered staring after Him. The angels, it seems, can’t resist a little joke at their expense: “What you looking at? What are you staring up into the air for? He’ll be back. But staring at the clouds won’t bring him back any faster.”
No, he has returned to the Father. And while, understandably, we feel a touch of melancholy at seeing him go, still, his departure is a two-fold blessing. First because we now are given the magnificent vocation of being his witnesses to the world—of being, in fact, HIM to the world. Secondly, because we now are assumed with him into heaven. Our own human nature is assumed into the Father’s Divinity. Ad thirdly, because we now are ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.