Tomorrow is Ascension Day, so tonight at Evening Prayer we begin to celebrate. But what exactly do we celebrate on Ascension Day? I think of this as Separation Anxiety Day.
In Luke’s Gospel and in the Book of Acts (also written by Luke), we hear the account of the Ascension. After the Resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples a few things. They ask, now? Are you going to do what we thought you would, now? Jesus says, “Who knows? Wait for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will give you power to witness to me.” Then he was carried up to heaven.
Here the two accounts diverge a little. In the Gospel, the disciples seem to have no anxiety. It says “they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:53). Acts is a little less enthusiastic. The disciples are staring up at heaven when two men in white appear and say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? “ (Acts 1:11). They seem a little more subdued and confused here.
I don’t know why Luke changed his account from one place to the next, but I know that it probably is important. The two stories are like two sides of a coin, and we live on both sides. The first side is joy and surprise. Look what Jesus does! Jesus is awesome! We want to give thanks and praise. But the other side is real too. Where did Jesus go? I’ve never seen anything like that. Should I believe my eyes? And, where is Jesus now? Suddenly I feel alone and weak.
Some days are like the Gospel version, and some days are like Acts. Some days I can see God’s glory and believe in miracles. Other days it seems the most vivid thing about God is absence.
Soon the disciples will have the Holy Spirit come on them, and they will go out and preach and heal and feed and baptize. Soon the Holy Spirit will come to us, and we will celebrate its renewed presence among and within us. But for these ten days, we can honor the very human anxiety and confusion of the disciples when Jesus left. That doesn’t mean doing nothing. The disciples are told to stop “gazing up toward heaven,” and so are we. Jesus will come again, but in the meantime we have work to do. We are the witnesses who are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins. We do so as human beings, sometimes scared and confused and doubtful, but also as beloved children of God. We, like they, have been blessed by Jesus. And soon, soon, the Holy Spirit will come. Get ready .