If Jesus is making a way for us, are we following it?
by Danielle Shroyer
New Testament Reading: Acts 1:6-14
For Sunday, June 5, 2011 Year A—Easter 7
There are some stories in Scripture that veer into what I call “Fringe” territory; unknown, supernatural stuff we don’t have names for except to say they are strange, and we don’t know what to make of them. Welcome to the Ascension, where that kind of thing happens.
In our reading from Acts, the disciples first ask Jesus whether it’s time for the kingdom to be restored. They’re like little kids on a long car ride, constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” Jesus gives his usual answer- it’s not for them to know- but he says the Spirit is coming to help them, and they will be his witnesses to the end of the earth. And then…drumroll please…Jesus is lifted up in a cloud and disappears from sight. (Wha???) The disciples find themselves obviously gazing up at this incredible scene, when two white-robed men then appear (Wha???) and ask them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”
“Dear white-robed guys, who appear out of nowhere, WE’RE WATCHING JESUS FLOAT AWAY IN A CLOUD—that’s why!”
(I mean really, the fact that the disciples are intently watching this happen is the very least crazy, the very most rational thing going on around here.)
Moving on…the robed guys also tell the disciples that Jesus will return in the same way they saw him leave. And then the disciples return to Jerusalem, to the upstairs room, with no further commentary. (Wha???)
The Great Day of Honesty
I confess to being rather obsessed with the whole idea of the Ascension. How do we understand Jesus’ absence? Why does nobody talk about it? What does it all mean, anyway? I’ve begun a little campaign in recent years to call Ascension the Great Day of Honesty, where we all admit out loud that Jesus isn’t here, and we all wish he were, because most of the time we have no idea what we are doing. It hasn’t caught on yet. Maybe that’s because it’s too hard for us to say, and we’d rather say things like “Jesus is near to us in our hearts.” I personally think one day of honestly staring that truth in the face might do all of us a bit of good. It certainly makes you feel a lot more responsible, the truth that Jesus expects us—US—to hold down the fort. There’s only one catch- if we’re going to be true to the way the story unfolds, the Great Day of Honesty shouldn’t lead us to despair or resignation.
Do Not Despair
In fact, what happens to the disciples is just the opposite. They go back to their beloved upper room and constantly devote themselves to prayer. And soon, Pentecost happens just like Jesus promised, and they find themselves out on the street, prophesying and spreading good news to the ends of the earth. This is no late night ice-cream binging depression. They are just fine moving forward without Jesus. So perhaps the strangest question is this: Why aren’t the disciples more bothered when Jesus leaves them?
Personally, (and with a little help from Jurgen Moltmann) I think it’s because the disciples see Jesus not as removed from them, but ahead of them. Jesus is preparing a way for them, and for us, and our job is to go forward, to venture out in that direction.
The Hardest Question
Who would have thought that the hardest question about ascension wouldn’t be about the cloud, or the white-robed men, or even Jesus’ cryptic words about the time of kingdom restoration. The hardest question is staring right at us, demanding an answer: If Jesus is making a way for us, are we following it? Perhaps that is its own great day of honesty worth heeding.
Danielle Shroyer is the Pastor of Journey Church in Dallas, TX. She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and blogs at www.danielleshroyer.com. Danielle lives with her husband, two children, and two wild and crazy dogs in Dallas.