The whole story of the ascension of Jesus has often seemed a bit silly to me. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus is suddenly lifted up into the clouds and the disciples and people are left standing there watching as his feet grow further and further away. To me it sounds an awful lot like the author of Acts was making sure Jesus competed well with the likes of the great prophet Elijah (who was taken up into heaven on a chariot without dying). Certainly we can’t take this literally, so what is the message of the ascension for us today.
Here’s my thought… Jesus has just spent the classic 40 days (the number is often used symbolically in scripture for the time that God uses to prepare people for a future task). He has given them all that he is able to give them in the way of advice, teachings and wisdom, now they must carry on by themselves. Just like all those who are graduating from high school and college this month, we must all let go of our teachers at some point and head out into the world.
Jesus has been taken up into the cloud, that ancient symbol of the presence of God; he has transcended the things of this world, but he has told us that he is the Way – the universal Way to the Divine – and that they knew the Way (of love, compassion, justice, peace), now it was time to follow it. Part of what fascinates me about this parable is how the people responded. They stood there and looked up for a long, long time until two “messengers” came along and said, “Hey, what are you guys lookin’ at?”
We all have endings in our lives that are hard to deal with. And so we stand there looking at the door that has just closed hoping that it will open again and wondering how on earth we’ll go on if it doesn’t. Perhaps we need messengers jarring us back to reality by asking us what on earth we’re looking at. Perhaps we need to be reminded that we won’t find the open windows in our lives until we turn around and stop staring at the door. As students of Jesus, we, too, know the Way. We’ve been taught how to live a deep spiritual, fulfilled life in the midst of the craziness of this world. We’ve been shown how to be loving, kind, accepting, non-judgmental, giving and compassionate. We’ve been told to love ourselves as we love others. At some point, when the doors seem to close all around us, we need to open our eyes to the broad expanse of the world that exists for us, begin walking toward it, live true to what we’ve learned, and trust.
Just as Jesus was able to transcend the things of this earth, so too can we transcend them.