For a long time, (I must confess,) the ascension story simply eluded me. Jesus’ farewell, his being taken up into the heavens from the disciples’ presence on a cloud, the farewell, — it never really made much sense to me.
It was always a strange, “other worldly” kind of event.
It was a story that perhaps made sense back in an age when heaven was thought of as some physical place just beyond the blue celestial orb of the sky, but not a story that made a lot of sense in an age where we had slipped the surly bonds and ventured out into space.
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I began to understand the true nature of the Ascension story.
It is not so much a story about the physics and the visuals of being taken up out of sight.
It has more to do with the transfer of power, responsibility, and authority.
My understanding came from a curious place. It started with a phrase that I found myself saying with increasing frequency as my children grew older. It was probably a phrase that I had picked up from my own parents.
The phrase was, “Someday you’ll have to do this for yourself.”
Every parent will recognize that phrase, or something like it.
It is the phrase that embodies both your hopes and dreams, and also your fondest expectations!
The little ones come to you as helpless lumps of flesh dependent upon you for every need in life, — food, clothing, shelter, and hygiene.
Slowly over time, one by one those responsibilities for meeting and addressing needs is transferred over to them.
It starts with the ability to feed themselves. We go from shoveling gruel into their mouths to them taking the spoon themselves and eventually walking into the kitchen to see them rummaging or preparing something on their own.
We go from dressing, washing, and dealing with gooey pants to them taking on those abilities themselves. They learn to use the bathroom, dress themselves, bathe themselves, to take on little chores that contribute to the benefit and welfare of the whole household.
Every little milestone is prefaced with that phrase, “Someday you will have to do this for yourself…”
Each time the phrase is flung out, it is done so with a fervent hope and dream that what is taking place here is preparation for life.
We prepare our children for the day when we will not be there to take care of their every need.
We prepare them to take the initiative, to solve their own problems, and to make their own decisions.
Partly we do this because we’d like to have our own life back again, thank you!
We also do it because there is something about watching the next generation become that is frankly hope inducing.
When you strip away all the other-worldly stuff away from the ascension, what you have in this story is a torch passing. It is Jesus finally and completely letting go of the ministry he started, modeled, taught, lived and for which he died and was raised again.
The ascension is the story of Jesus telling the disciples, telling us, “now you have to – and you can– do this for yourself!”
The shift of responsibility is there, the parental hope and dreams are there, but we almost miss it by looking at all the wrong details of the story. Instead of jumping to the cloud, —look at what happens before Jesus leaves.
They are all gathered together, Jesus and his disciples, on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. Those disciples are looking to Jesus for guidance, direction but what they are really looking for is for Jesus to “do something.”
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They ask.
All eyes are focused on what Jesus will do next.
Now that Jesus has died, been raised, what is his next move Lord? What will the resurrected one do?
The answer Jesus gives to their question is one that squarely shifts responsibility for action.
“It is not for you to know the times or the seasons….”
What God does next, what I do next, that is not your concern.
What is your concern is what will come next for YOU!
“You will receive power….” Jesus says.
“You will be my witnesses….” Jesus says.
“In Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus says.
It is not going to be like old times, where the disciples tagged along behind Jesus, sometimes complaining, sometimes bewildered, like children in tow of their parent.
If the Gospel is going to reach to the ends of the earth, then this band of 12 is going to have split and multiply.
If we are to witness to the world, then we’re going to have to go places and travel lighter and farther that we ever did as a band of 13, with Jesus in the lead.
There are grand visions and dreams being imparted here in Jesus’ farewell.
A torch is being passed.
A promise is being given.
“You will receive power….”
You can do this! And, in order for this to be done, Jesus is going to have to leave the scene, otherwise they will be forever expecting him to do it all!
I didn’t understand the Ascension until I became a parent.
I didn’t understand it until I too had to let my children flounder a bit and try things on their own, — leave them to their own experience and training, what they had learned through the years of watching and following me.
I knew they were perfectly capable of taking it on themselves, this task of living set before them.
I also knew that for them to take it on, I would have to step back out of the picture, as my parents had stepped out of the picture for me, encouraging me to do what they knew that I could do as well.
So, it is with Jesus.
The cloud, the lifting up, that’s all just the device to make it perfectly clear to us that he is out of the immediate picture! What Jesus had come to proclaim, the Kingdom and all of its promises, is now up to his followers, — up to us to take on.
Jesus has promised to be with us still! He will be there to support us, where two or three are gathered.
But Jesus will not to be the initiator of the action any longer.
Rather, the Holy Spirit will be the encourager.
Jesus’ presence is not unlike the memory that the child carries of their parent, guardian, mentor or teacher who showed them how to live and act and how to do things.
As life confronts with predicaments, we hearken back to what has been imparted to us.
Often our memory is hazy, not as complete as we would like it to be.
Sometimes we forget exactly what was said or exactly what was done.
There is a sense in which those who taught us are not quite gone, but they are also not immediately there, and they will certainly not do it for us anymore!
Still, when we undertake these actions our memory of them, (their spirit, if you will) empowers what we do.
Such is the spirit of the ascension!
Now the torch is passed.
Now the time for Jesus to gather, to preach, to heal, and to announce the Kingdom of God coming is passed to another generation.
Now is the time for the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, the time of the “sent ones” who watched and learned from him.
You, brothers and sisters are the “sent ones” now.
You are the ones who have been baptized, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
You are the ones who have learned from Jesus and who have seen him as a model for life.
You have witnessed the power of his love and have heard his call upon your own life.
You are the ones who have had the scriptures placed into your hands.
You are the ones who have had the neighbor’s welfare placed within your heart.
Yes, what exactly you are supposed to do may seem hazy from time to time.
Maybe you can’t remember the exact words that Jesus said to this kind of moment.
Maybe you haven’t memorized every verse that you’d like to have ready so that you would know exactly what to say to life’s circumstances.
Maybe you wish that you would have studied more, or been a little more forgiving, or had a deeper sense of spirituality, had a little more time with the teachers, and wish that the pathway was marked out a little more clearly.
But, dear friends in Christ, here’s the thing.
If you wait until you have your whole house in order before you strike out to witness and to serve, you will likely never get around to doing it.
There comes the time when God simply says, “You will have to do this for yourself..” And now is that time!
But realize also, that our God is not so much interested in you doing things perfectly the first time, or every time.
God is just delighted and pleased to see you stepping out to do what God has always known you were capable of doing!
When you begin to step out in faith, (no matter how small or uncertain those first steps may be,) realize that God is rejoicing, applauding for you — for now God begins to see the hopes and the dreams of that Kingdom promised coming into this world through you.
It is a Kingdom that does not come because Jesus does it all for us.
Rather, it is a Kingdom that comes because God has empowered us take part in it and to bring it to completion.
It is a Kingdom so big and vast that the only way it will ever come is if each and every follower of Jesus takes hold of a piece of it and says, “I can do this — here.”
It is a Kingdom that comes when we step out in faith and indeed take the witness about the love of Jesus to our corner of this world, to our piece of the “ends of the earth.”
I did not understand the ascension until I became a parent.
Jesus has shown you what you must do with his very life and teaching.
Jesus has promised you the Holy Spirit, and his presence as you launch out. Someday, you’ll have to do this Kingdom proclaiming stuff for yourself….and that someday is today.