Tag Archives: Ascension

Staring at the Sky: Living after the Ascension

I have always been fascinated by two particular verses in the first chapter of the book of Acts. In Acts 1:10-11 (NLT) we read, “As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!’”  I can picture the disciples standing there looking off into space as Jesus ascends and suddenly is gone. I am sure many of us have had similar experiences where we saw something so awe-inspiring that we just couldn’t stop looking – even though the event may have ended. I think that our human desire is to preserve those moments, like when we take a photograph. Perhaps that is why so many today share their life events through pictures on social media. We want to preserve those moments and maybe even cling to them. Unfortunately, if we cling too hard, we can miss the world going on right in front of us. I think this was the temptation that those disciples faced on Ascension Day. 

This wasn’t the only time they had struggled to move past the moment. Craig Keener, in his impressive four-volume commentary on the book of Acts, reminds us that this event in Acts has a strong parallel to Luke’s recounting of the empty tomb in Luke 24:6-7. Keener suggests that the angels ask the disciples why they are standing there staring at the sky because they should have believed what Jesus had already told them – they should have expected it.[1] The disciples at the empty tomb also seemed frozen by the shock of the revelation that, “He is not here, but has risen.”[2] They had heard Jesus say that this is what would happen, but when faced with the reality of the resurrection, it was challenging to get beyond the angel’s revelation. Similarly, at the ascension of Jesus, the disciples were in awe and perhaps shock. Jesus had left them. However, again they forgot the promise of Jesus – that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower the Kingdom work that he had called them to.

Perhaps as disciples today, like those early followers we also struggle to believe Jesus’ promises and to move past staring into the sky. Perhaps we have experienced God’s amazing grace, but rather than moving past that moment of initial salvation, we struggle to press on and work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Maybe we have experienced the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but we find ourselves frozen. Perhaps we are staring at the sky, forgetting that while Jesus has promised to return, in the meantime he has promised the Holy Spirit who will propel us into mission in our everyday ordinary lives. Our world needs disciples who move beyond staring at the sky and embrace the promises of Jesus as we walk with him each day.

[1] Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Volume 1. 2012.

[2] Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Featured image courtesy Tim Hüfner on Unsplash.

Carrie Carter ~ Waiting on the Holy Spirit

Waiting is not an easy task for me. I’ve been known to drive miles out of the way to avoid being delayed by a train. I’ve been caught sneaking food from the dish before it was placed on the table. I’ve evaluated the check-out lanes at Wal-Mart in order to choose the one with the shortest wait. I always choose wrong. Always. The microwave society that is the Western world has not helped to develop the fruit of patience (longsuffering?) in my life, and I find that it has done nothing to benefit our culture. I don’t have to drive in LA to know that road rage simmers on the pavement of I-5.

This week we celebrate Ascension Day. An interesting conversation happened on this last day of Jesus’ physical presence on earth. He was telling them to wait. He was answering their questions of, “is this when?” with a, “God’s times are none of your business.”

It’s funny that even after three years of walking alongside Jesus, living through the agony of his death, and celebrating his resurrection, they were still anticipating a coup on the Roman government (Acts 1:6). They had waited long enough. The nation of Israel had waited long enough.

“Wait,” he said. “Wait for the Father’s promise.” “Wait for the power you will receive.” “Wait for the Holy Spirit.”

And he was gone.

So they waited. They took care of some pre-church “business.” They waited some more.

Jesus didn’t tell them how long they would need to wait to receive God’s promise. Instead of grumbling, sighing, looking at their watches, complaining to the front desk staff, or checking for messages on their phones, they united in prayer. I don’t know what they prayed, but I don’t suppose it matters now.

They waited for 10 days. Ten days of not knowing how long they needed to wait and not understanding what they were waiting for but believing Jesus: that something was going to happen.

When it happened, they knew. All of Jerusalem knew. Pentecost came in a blaze of glory! Almost 2,000 years later, I’ve benefitted from that wait.

My reality makes this story painful. How often have I given up waiting on God’s promise because I didn’t see a “will expire on” stamp? How much have I missed because I was not submitted to God’s timeline? Like a petulant child, I’ve demanded answers right now, and I know, even within my own parenting, that a child who behaves in that manner rarely, if ever, gets that for which he or she asks.

The 10 days between Ascension Day and Pentecost is my yearly reminder that good things come to those who wait. That waiting is essential for growth within my spiritual journey. Those 10 days were not recorded as a time of uncertainty and frustration, but as a time of prayer and purpose.

My own prayer is that when God asks me to wait, whether for a week or for a season, I will do it well.

Ellsworth Kalas ~ Easter’s Exclamation Point

I’m at the point in my life when I ask myself what I would change if I could relive my years of pastoral ministry. Mind you, they were 38 wonderful years, and I cherish the memory of the four appointments in which I served. And I’m smart enough to know that hind sight is not really twenty-twenty, because hind sight is never accurate in recalling the circumstances in which the decisions of past days were made.

Nevertheless, there are so many areas where I could have done better; things that had nothing to do with character, ability, or the nature of the church. That is, things that were really pretty much in my control, and not lost in generalities such as wishing I had made better use of my time (which is a generality made up of specifics).

This is a specific one, and nothing kept me from it except perhaps my ignorance. I wish I had celebrated Ascension Sunday more often, both in my preaching and in the order of worship.

I know why I was slow to learn. I grew up in a long-ago world of Midwestern Methodism when the church calendar had three days, Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day. And sometimes Good Friday We learned much later about Advent, Lent, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and All Saints Day (rather than Memorial Day).

Ascension Day is actually a Thursday, of course, and the more liturgical bodies celebrate it then. But I would celebrate it on the assigned Sunday, knowing that I would reach far more people than on a Thursday.

And of course I would have a hymn from Charles Wesley: “Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise.” Wesley wrote it in 1739, when Methodism was still in its first bloom. Its Anglican roots were evident in its sense of tradition, including the church calendar, but the tradition was now aflame with the warmed heart.

The opening line of “Hail the Day” sounds as if it were another Easter hymn — “Hail the day that sees him rise” — but the next line tells us that we have passed beyond Easter; to what does Christ rise? For a few days or years on earth, then to die like Jairus’s daughter or the widow of Nain’s son? If so there is no compelling reason to celebrate Easter. Easter, with such a conclusion, would be the memory of a miracle but not the end to the power of death. Christ has risen so that he may go “to his throne above the skies.”

Our Lord’s ascension is, as I like to phrase it, “Easter’s exclamation point.” It tells us that the resurrection of our Lord is not simply a miracle, something to astonish us as with thousands of other miracles; it is a re-shaping of the order of the universe; it is the death of death. It is not simply a lengthening of life; it is a re-definition of life.

And see what our Lord’s ascension means to us, the church today:

See! The heaven its Lord receives,

Yet he loves the earth he leaves,

Though returning to his throne,

Still he calls the world his own.

I wish I had preached this more often! I wish I had reminded my people that our Lord is still active on our world’s behalf, as our Intercessor. I wish I had told them often enough that both they and I would have got the reality of it.

Michael Smith ~ Jesus Leaves

Jesus leaves.

Jesus left his disciples. Jesus said, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20). It wasn’t much long after that he was taken up into the air. He leaves. What is the most common question or statement made by a person in crisis?

Where is God in this? Some days I look around and it is easy to fall into the idea that Jesus isn’t involved in some of these situations. Sometimes it is tough to see Jesus. Is he here? Is he truly with us?

A day I have been fearing has arrived. I knew it was inevitable, but part of me wished it would have taken longer. My young son now realizes that I am gone. When I leave for work in the morning he asks me not to go. When he realizes that it is impossible for me to stay he tries to find things for me to do to keep me home longer. If anything it buys him a few more minutes. With the end in sight he begins to negotiate a chance for him to come with me. Each day when I leave the house a dance begins. This dance is a heart-wrenching, gut-checking reality of having to leave my children. Back and forth I enter the dance knowing what the outcome will be. I will leave. My only hope is that I will return to see them, and to pick up where we left off.  Some days my son continues to go back and play with his toys. Other times he extends the mourning process (which always makes things fun for my wife). He is confused. He doesn’t want me to leave.

This confusion is also found in the disciples in John 14. They are like children playing on the floor, only to look up and see Mom and Dad putting on their coats to leave. The children/disciples have three questions: “Where are you going? Can we go? Who will stay with us?” Jesus responds, “I am going to my Father and your Father. You cannot come now; you can come later. I will not leave you as orphans. I will send another friend, another helper who will never leave, but who will stay with you forever.”

The question we have to wrestle with is whether or not this promise is enough. Is this a suitable answer to you? I have to go to work. This is part of life. So it is with the disciples. Part of the life of a disciple is working, growing, learning, living, while Jesus is gone, but doing it all in hopeful anticipation for when he will be back and our world will be safe again. The new heaven and new earth may look different, but it will be home to us. And it will be as if he never left at all.