“While (Jesus) was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:51)
If you were to hold an informal poll with those around you, how do you think people would answer the question,
“Where is Jesus now?”
How would you answer that question?
Answers will vary to be sure.
In the Lukan narrative (Luke 24:44-53); Jesus explained the scriptures to them (just as he did on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35] after he ate with them and had them touch him so they did not think he was a ghost [Luke 24:46-43]). He explained, “thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Jesus promised, “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Then he took them out as far as Bethany (about a mile and a half from Jerusalem) where he blessed and left them. The gospel ends with the disciples returning to Jerusalem, “and they were continually in the Temple praising God” (Luke 24:53).
In Acts (Acts 1:1-11), Luke expands the story to include an explanation of this “power from on High” (Luke 24:49) to be the coming Holy Spirit (Acts 1:7-9). The rest of the book of Acts will be a continuation of how the Spirit emboldens those first believers to carry the mission of “repentance and forgiveness” (Luke 24:46) to the “end of the earth” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). Acts expands this scene even further by locating two men in white robes among the disciples. This echoes the two men in dazzling robes at the empty tomb in Luke’s Easter account with the women (Luke 24:1-12). Here among the disciples, like the women at the empty tomb, the men in dazzling clothes ask a good question. They asked the women, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). They asked the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11). [Personal aside – I cannot ever read that question without laughing. I often find myself looking at the sky for answers when there is work right in front of me to be done.]
So what does it all mean?
Jesus is not displaced out of the world by the Ascension. Jesus is to be found wherever there is repentance and forgiveness; that is in every place reconciliation, rehabilitation and restoration of the world and our relationships takes place. This work is powered by Christ’s ongoing presence that is enfleshed in the community that bears his name; that is the body of Christ. The church’s mission is powered by the promised Holy Spirit; that came; that comes to us now, and will keep coming to us in the word, the sacraments and the ever-expanding people of God brought into God’s promises of life and mercy.
Where we (the church) keep getting stuck is dwelling on our limits, failures, fractures, decline, death and/or shouting at the sky for answers. We have work to do. It takes the Spirit, in the story of Pentecost (Acts 2) to shake us up and blow through us like a mighty wind so we can look for Christ (and the need for Christ) in all the right places…and go there to share his abundant blessing of new life that keeps exploding out of the grave.
Where do you look for Jesus?
How might you help others see him?
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