Why Do You Stand Looking Up?Fr. Barnabas Powell
“Ok, OK, let’s move along. Nothing to see here!” With that I was trying to break up the gawking crowd that had gathered around a particularly messy car crash. The problem was these folks seemed to be glued to the scene even as the scene was being cleaned up. It’s over. It’s done. It’s time to move on!
But that’s hard for we humans to do. We really get mesmerized by events and we get stuck there just ruminating on what happened. Now, that’s not always a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing when it stops us from moving on and living our lives.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 1:1-12:
IN THE FIRST BOOK, O Theophilos, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” He said to them, “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said,”Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Then they returned from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
This is the scripture for the Feast of the Ascension; that annual Feast where many of us scratch our heads wondering why all the fuss! And, since the Ascension always falls on a Thursday (40 days after a Sunday will always be a Thursday!) those weekday Divine Liturgies get forgotten. So, what’s the big deal about the Ascension?
First, this event happens after the risen Lord had been ministering to His disciples for 40 days after His miraculous resurrection. St. Luke, the beloved physician, records this for us so that we can see the Lord not just blinking out of our sight, but actually preparing His followers to do the work of the Church. Their fear and sadness are gone. The joy of the resurrection and the Lord’s closeness are nothing but joy and the words He uses to teach them and prepare them for their calling are all amazing and exciting. It’s a great 40 days!
Second, the Lord prepares the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus dismisses their continual misunderstanding of His mission even after His resurrection. They still want to know when we march on Jerusalem to set up a kingdom, when all the while the Lord is preparing them to receive the Kingdom of God at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Theotokos, so the same Holy Spirit will come onto the disciples gathered at Pentecost to do the same thing: manifest the Body of Christ in the Flesh! But this time it’s our flesh the Holy Spirit is forming the Person of Christ within!
Finally, He ascends with His resurrected and very human and glorified and physical body into heaven. He doesn’t disappear. He rises. He doesn’t shed His physical body for “pure spirit” (that’s not human) since His taking on our humanness is forever. No, He takes His human body into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, the Father, so that we can know that is our destiny as well! Don’t just stand there gazing up into heaven amazed at this one event! Get down there and start to embrace and be embraced by the purpose of your Faith!
Today, as we consider the magnificent miracle of the Ascension, know this event isn’t for Jesus but for us. We will never value or give proper perspective to our Faith if we are not confronted with the awesome reality we are called to become! We are meant to stop gazing and start living! We are meant to join Christ at His Father’s side as His Body, His continual presence in His creation. We are meant to ascend with Christ and be Orthodox on Purpose!