Ascension Day: Don't Just Stand There, Get Busy!

Still, Jesus is about to restore Israel, but in a very different way. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, these Israelite followers of Jesus will be sent from Jerusalem, "into all Judea and Samaria, to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). But they will be sent not to announce the renewed greatness of Israel, but to proclaim that God now rules over an obedient people, over those who have seen and accepted Jesus as God's Messiah.

In the light of those basic claims about the role of the followers of Jesus, I find 1:9-11 decidedly comic, the stuff of near slapstick. After hearing the rising Jesus demand that they stay in Jerusalem in order to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the followers stand transfixed while their master rises into the sky, transported by a cloud. Even after he has disappeared, their eyes are fixed on the sky, their chins and foreheads upraised, frozen in a painful and twisted pose. Whiplash is bound to follow!

Suddenly two men in white clothing (see the transfiguration story at Luke 9:30 and the resurrection account of Luke 24:4) show up in the wake of the rising cloud and say (shout?), "Men of Galilee! Why do you stand looking into heaven?"

Why indeed? Why do we stand looking into heaven, longing for the magic return of Jesus in order to set all things straight? Too many Christians pray mightily for the Second Coming and neglect completely the First Coming. Rather than gaze into the sky, waiting for magic, our Lord calls us to receive the Holy Spirit in order that we might become witnesses of his truth that God rules in life, not Nike and IBM, not missile and bomb, not gun and money. When we celebrate Pentecost next week, the Spirit will fall on us again, but whether we become witnesses of God's power or remain slaves to the world's power remains to be seen.

5/7/2013 4:00:00 AM