The time between the resurrection and Pentecost is interrupted by Ascension, in the traditional church calendar, the time when Jesus was taken into heaven. Before this we have many resurrection appearances.
In Mathew it is as if the forty days are condensed between Easter and Pentecost. The disciples are told to go to Galilee, where Jesus blesses and commissions them, as witnesses to the ends of the earth, to make disciples and to teach. The promise is given that Jesus will be with them always.
In Mark there is a similar commission and a resurrection appearance when the eleven disciples were eating. Miracles will accompany them. Then Jesus was taken from them.
The story is similar at the end of Luke and again the commission to preach to the ends of the earth and the promise of the Holy Spirit. He disappeared from them at Bethany and they returned to Jerusalem praising God.
In John there is no account of the Ascension, only the commission to Peter and the promise to the beloved disciple John
At the beginning of Acts the disciples are waiting in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has rejected the earthly restoration of Israel. Again there is the commission to be witnesses. And then he was taken from them by a cloud. Two angels told them to return to Jerusalem a sabbath’s days journey. And there’s the promise of Jesus return.
After the Ascension the disciples go back to the upper room, a familiar place, a place of security at a strange and unsettling time. Peter takes on the yoke of leadership and Matthias joins the apostles as they have now become.
The stories are linked by key points, the commissioning to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, the promise that Jesus is with them, the promise of the Holy Spirit when they return and wait in Jerusalem and the promise of a return. During the time of waiting the motley band are united and unified.
What does the story mean for us? There are many times in our lives when we lose what is most precious to us. At these times we go back to old haunts, to people we trust to find our bearings. We feel life has taken a wrong turn. There is a loss, an absence, a grieving and a return.
In our story however there is the loss of Jesus in bodily form, his resurrection appearances which are a comfort and a shock to the disciples, then his loss again and the charge to wait. I would be confused-wouldnt you? Then there is the commission, to tell the story, to baptize to make disciples, when they are in a state of shock. They have the promise that he is with them however and that they are to be “clothed on high”. And so they do wait. They can do little else. They put their house in order and they wait.
In the biblical tradition lifting up is done for healing, the lifting up of the snake on the pole in Exodus which became a symbol of medicine, the lifting up of Jesus on the cross as healing for the nations and so we enter a new time in the life of Jesus. He came to earth as a refugee child and grew into adulthood eating and drinking like us. But through his death and resurrection he became more than us, he represented God to us and became the mediator between God and us, healing interceding, redeeming. So now on his journey he is on his way to heaven and to a share in Gods authority. So what does the story of ascension have to teach us?
Its difficult to look up and down together. We have glimpses of heaven which lift us and remind us of our heavenly calling. This ensures we don’t get bogged down by what’s happening to us, that we cant see the wood for the trees. We need to take time to look up otherwise we will do just that. We need to create spaces where we look up otherwise we wont reflect that higher calling on our lives. Most of us find it very difficult to do that.
We need to look up, to let go off the things which drag us down to earth and to look to God. We need also to put our house in order and then we need to wait for God, to be clothed from on high, in the certainty that God will send the Holy Spirit to help us and we need to be constantly praying-but then we would be mad not to do that when live is so demanding!