Grace and peace are yours from the Risen Christ. Amen.
They wanted Jesus to do what they thought he would do. Most of them had traveled and lived and worked with him for years. And then, they had spent 40 days with him after the resurrection, eating, and listening, and learning some more. And yet, still, the apostles asked, “Hey, um, Jesus? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” They wanted Jesus to meet their expectations.
The Ascension is one of those events from scripture that I find pretty hard to believe. But there it is, in our creed, as this really central, really important part of our identity. And here it is today, again, in our lectionary readings. And I’m not really sure what to make of this Jesus.
Because I don’t want to believe in a Beam-Me-Aboard kind of Jesus. A Jesus who could leave as unexpectedly as he came. A see-you-later-Jesus. I don’t want to believe in a Mary Poppins Jesus. A Jesus without his feet grounded firmly on the Earth. A floaty, flakey, kind of Jesus. A fairy-godmother Jesus. I don’t want to believe in a Space-Astronaut-Jesus. A no-oxygen tank, no science text book, no intro level astronomy kind of Jesus.
I want Jesus to fall in line. To fit neatly into my boxes. To support my theology. I want myJesus to be tame. Predictable. Containable. I want Jesus to meet my expectations.
The apostles asked, “Hey, um, Jesus? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” expecting Jesus to meet their expectations and Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion, gave them no straight answer and then *poof* he was gone.
It’s almost like when we ask Jesus to conform to our ideas of who he should be, when we try to contain Jesus…we are practically triple dog daring him to do something crazy and blow our minds. That’s actually probably the one predictable thing about Jesus. He’s always doing these things that we wouldn’t expect him to do. Like leaving Heaven to be born to an unwed teenage mother in an occupied land. And hanging out with lepers and sinners and tax collectors. And dying on a cross. Jesus is always working in ways that seem contrary to logic.
And so the apostles learned that, again, on the mountain when they were left there in Jesus’s cloud dust, and “stood there, staring into the empty sky.”until some angels came and snapped them back to reality. You know that your idea of reality has changed when angels are the ones to bring your focus back to Earth.
The disciples were asking Jesus the wrong kinds of questions and so they didn’t really get an answer. So instead of trying to pin Jesus down with my questions about the physics of levitation and the precise coordinates of Heaven, instead of grasping at his heels as he soars into the sky, it’s time that I got a little real with myself and answered the question the angels asked the apostles when they said, “why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”
So, Why, why do I stand here, staring at the sky, frozen in my confusion about this ridiculous ascension business? Why?! Because this story is crazy.
Because I can’t understand it. Because Jesus and all his mystery terrifies me and it makes me feel very, very out of control.
So instead of asking the wrong kinds of questions about things that are mysteries, I’m going to try to ask some of the right questions. The kind of questions that don’t have answers, that make way for more questions, that leave room for wonder.
Like, I wonder…
When Jesus ascended into Heaven, after this meal with his friends, did he have any bread crumbs on his robe? Orin his beard? Was the smell offish still on his breath when he entered through the gates? Were his lips purple, stained with red wine? Was his hair windblown from the ride in? Was there dust on his sandals? Was there still dirt…under his fingernails?
Dirt under his fingernails, like, a little bit of earth, a memento, a souvenir…
Sometimes in this floaty Jesus story, where Jesus is acting so supernatural, I tend to kind of forget about his humanity.
We talk about holy mysteries, like how Jesus can be wholly God and also wholly human…We talk as if the two were opposite, Heaven and Earth. As if, where one is, the other cannot be. Yet, in the creation story we see that to make human beings, God took a little bit of earth, and breathed into it a little bit of Heaven, and brought forth human beings…a marriage of Heaven and Earth.
We read each December about incarnation, when God came down from Heaven became human in a tiny little baby on Earth. And then today we read about Jesus, who was wholly God AND WHOLLY HUMAN, who went up to Heaven from Earth.
When Jesus brings his human, corporal, physical, “made from dust” body up into Heaven…a body with bones and blood and lungs and skin…when Jesus, fully human, enters the Kingdom of God, he is showing us that there is a place for US in Heaven, too. Heaven and Earth, God and humans, we are not completely divorced from one another. There is a way for us to be connected.
All throughout the story, Heaven has been leaning in to kiss Earth. FromCreation to Incarnation, from Ascension to the Forever and Ever Amen, God has been showing us that Heaven is not that far away.
And as I dream and wonder about the connection between Heaven and Earth and what that means for us, I remember what the apostles’ response was to the questions the angels asked. The apostles? They got right to work.
Spending time in community together, devoting themselves to prayer, making space for the Holy Spirit to come (and oh, She is coming), and then, after Pentecost, they began to do exactly as Jesus had said: To bear witness to Jerusalem, to all Judea, to Samaria, and to the whole world. God brought Heaven to Earth. Jesus showed us how.
And now, it’s our job to continue on in the work.
To bring God’s “Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
So may you recognize those moments, when Heaven kisses Earth. May you leave room in your heart to gaze at the sky in wonder. And then, when your focus returns to the Earth once again, may you feel empowered to continue on in the work set before you.