The ascension of our Lord (May 30/June 2, 2019)
Luke alone among the Gospel writers, describes the Ascension of Our Lord, which we celebrate today. At the end of his first book, his Gospel, he places the ascension on Easter Sunday night. At the beginning of his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, Luke places it 40 days later. A scripture scholar answered the obvious question: “When was it, really?” “It probably was Easter Sunday night, but the day was so jam-packed, Luke decided to spread the events out over 40 days in his acts. We don’t know the time for sure, but we see, once again that we cannot look at scripture as history as we know history.
For me, there are two challenging questions in Easter-time scripture readings. The curious thing is that on both occasions the question, “where,” was asked by a follower: where have they put him? Where are you going?”
As we know, often, in Scripture, a question is answered with another question. In both these instances, the where-questions are responded to with why-questions.
The first re-framed, where-question in Luke’s Gospel is on Easter: to Mary of Magdala and the other women to their question of “where have they put him?” Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not a body to be anointed with spices. Jesus is very alive and quite well.
The second re-framed question, “Where are you going” [from Peter in John’s Gospel] is answered in today’s Gospel with another why-question: Why do you stand here looking up to heaven? You are looking in the wrong place. Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”.
We know from our experience “why questions” are the toughest of all questions. The liturgy provides Easter season to ponder the answers to those two questions.
The question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” is an important one for us in our day. We know Jesus is alive. Some church leaders who claim to speak in his name appear not to be living, but dead. Personally, I read, and I listen to spiritual persons and pray to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am not left an orphan, as Jesus promised. I try not to seek the living among the dead.
There is a separate challenge in the second question, the one we heard in our Gospel, “Why so you stand here looking up to heaven.” To intentionally mix a metaphor, we are not to stand here sitting on our thumbs. We are called to do something, to be alive as a follower of Jesus, to become the person we are called to become.
Luke tells us today that right after Jesus left them they went to the Jerusalem temple and spoke the praises of god. Luke tells us in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, they did those actions which the Acts of the Apostles records. They witnessed to Jesus – truthfully.
There was not distance but closeness to Jesus after the Ascension. The gift of presence is part of the blessing that Jesus gave to his disciples and to us as he left. He fulfills his blessing to be with us here in Eucharist, in our community, among our friends and families.
We re-enflesh Jesus in Eucharist and become Christ for others to help shape our world into the body of Christ. Our challenge is to bring our life-giving enthusiasm to our home and family, parish and friends. We are his body, made visible, audible, and tangible. We bring Christ to others and we see Christ in them. We are church, the body of Christ.