The Ascension of Our Lord – Acts 1:1-11
There is an episode of The Simpsons that seems particularly relevant to our reading from Acts this evening. The episode finds the cartoon family in church, where they fall asleep and dream about various Biblical accounts. At the end, they all awake to find themselves in an empty church. When they get outside, it is the end of the world; and there is hellfire and brimstone everywhere.
The Flanders family are seen piously praying, when a light from above shines on them and they are taken into heaven. Though stunned at first, the Simpsons are immediately reminded why they are not ascending into heaven. But then that same heavenly light shines down upon young Lisa, who likewise begins to ascend; that is until Homer grabs her by the ankle, and says ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
One could easily draw such an image from our reading from Acts. Unlike the Ascension account recorded by the same author in the Gospel of St. Luke where Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples return to Jerusalem rejoicing and praising God, the Acts account shows a far different side of the disciples.
Jesus leads them out to the mountain, and the primary thing on the disciples mind is whether or not Jesus will now, finally, establish an earthly kingdom in Israel, from which He will reign.
To which it only seems reasonable to assume that Jesus asks Himself: Where have these guys been?
At the end of our reading, as Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples are left standing on the mountain with strained necks, watching Jesus as He ascends out of sight.
One can almost imagine Peter grabbing onto Jesus ankle, and asking: where do you think you’re going? Or perhaps James and John asking if they were now in charge. Or maybe even Andrew and Levi contemplating a return to their previous careers now that the three year adventure with Jesus is over.
Such is the mood on this The Ascension of Our Lord. We read in Revelation that the other side of this is a celebration unlike any other in heaven, welcoming back the Son of God who has soundly and eternally defeated the old evil foe; but the picture on earth is much different; it is one of the disciples trying to hold onto Jesus, trying to keep Him here just a little while longer. They lost Him once, they dare not lose Him again.
Where do you fit into all of this?
It is easy to say that you are not like the disciples of Acts 1, but more like the disciples of Luke 24. You have never known what it is to have Jesus in human form, in your physical presence, so that He is now in heaven makes you no mind.
And yet, which would you rather have?
Do you, like the disciples, wish that Jesus would come and establish an earthly kingdom and set the world right? Of course you do; sure the promise of heaven for the believers and hell for the unbeliever is well and good, but why not make them suffer a little bit first? An earthly kingdom, established and governed by Jesus Himself, would be the perfect way to ensure that those who have done you wrong, would be made to pay for their offenses.
And if the unbeliever is suffering, there is no reason as to why you should not be rewarded. Is that not the command given to the governments of this world? To reward righteousness and punish wickedness. If the unbeliever is made to suffer, ought not you, the faithful and devout believer, be made to shine like the sun? Should you not receive a mansion prepared for you, and plenty of power and authority to make things right in your life.
Or perhaps, you just want Jesus to stick around because with Jesus here, you are safe and protected. With Jesus here, you have purpose, you have a reason for being. Without Jesus around, it is back to the same old way of life, with hardly anyone around at all to notice you?
How many would find themselves grabbing Jesus by the ankle, and asking Him, where do you think you’re going?
And yet, to cling to Jesus, to prevent Him from ascending into the clouds to take His seat at God’s right hand, is to miss the entire point of the Ascension.
The Ascension is the completion, the exclamation mark on the resurrection. Relatively speaking, lots of people rose from the dead: Lazarus and the widow’s son at Nain were raised directly by Jesus; not to mention those raised in the Old Testament and in the book of Acts; but what they all have in common is that they all died again, likely of old age or of a future illness; but also possible through persecution.
Jesus on the other hand, rose from the dead and never died again; and today, He ascends into heaven, thus signaling that He will never die again, but will rule at the Father’s side, not as second in command, but as equals in majesty and glory.
Jesus ascends today, but He does not leave us alone. Jesus ascends to the Father’s side so that He might intercede for us. We now have an advocate with the Father today, and it is Jesus Christ the righteous one, who points to the holes in His hands, feet and side, as remainders of His death for our sins.
Jesus ascends today, but He does not leave us alone. Jesus now sits on every altar in the bread and wine, the body and blood, give and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus is more present now than He ever was, no longer just on a mountaintop outside Jerusalem, but on every altar, waiting to be received by those who come forward to eat and drink a foretaste of the eternal feast that awaits them.
Jesus ascends today, but He does not ascend without a purpose; and the ultimate purpose is that one day you too will ascend. Jesus goes ahead to prepare a place for you, a place where you will live and reign with Him without end. Just as there is no resurrection for you without Christ’s resurrection, so to there is no ascension for you without Christ’s ascension first. And that is the promise today, that as Jesus ascends into heaven, you can now await the day when you too will be taken into heaven to live and reign without end.
The question we started out with was Where do you think you’re going, directed at Jesus as He drifts higher and higher into the clouds; and yet the question could very well be directed at each of us: where do you think you’re going?
You are going forth with the disciples, rejoicing and praising God for all that He has done, making His name known to the ends of the earth, all the while as you await the day when you will follow the path that Christ has set, ascending into heaven.