‘Luke 24:50-53/Acts 1:10-11’
“Why do you stand there looking up”?
This is an image that lives in my memory as a regular childhood occurrence. Living out in the bush on our farm we had few visitors and when visitors came their visit was welcome. We would stand on the front verandah or lean on the fence looking for the dusty evidence of their arrival, running like excited puppies yelping “They’re here, they’re here!’ as the barely visible car bounced up the track to the house.
And when the visit was over we would stand watching as the car disappeared and became just a wisp of dust on the horizon. We would kick the dirt and go on about our chores with a sense of the joy of being visited and of despondence at the sense of loss. What to do next?
“Why do you stand there looking up?”
Jesus has gone, where we are not sure. For us post-modern people who no longer view the world in terms of a three level cosmology – heaven is up, hell down and the world in between- the ascension can be very puzzling.
It is interesting that many of the ancient religions situated their gods in the earth and had no place for heaven or hell. What was important was the interaction between what was under their feet with what was in front of them. Indigenous peoples acted from this world view and remained completely connected to their environment in a holistic way.
It wasn’t until western Christians with their 3 tiered cosmology occupied their lands did these older religions become disconnected from the earth as they were converted to western Christianity. How much different our world would be if we had understood the truth of their world view, perhaps we would have treated our planet better.
What really happened here? Where did Jesus go? And does it matter? Sometimes we can be so heavenly minded to be of no earthly use. And that is the challenge of the two young men in white robes to the disciples. It doesn’t matter where Jesus went, he had promised to return, interestingly according to the young men, in the same way ‘you saw him go, in mystery and presence’.
The cloud metaphor here is important. Jesus disappears into a cloud. Is it a physical cloud or simply the fact that the Disciples are unable to process what is happening? They are in a cloud of unknowing, of not being able to process what is happening, of “I don’t understand.’
This happens to me a lot – I get that vague look on my face, my mind feels like cotton wool and I want to find a place to process what is happening. I open the box in my head called AFL (awaiting further light) and let what I don’t get, in. And then I wait.
At the most unexpected moments the cloud is lifted and some of th things in the AFL box disappear and I know something I didn’t know before, I see things in colour instead of black and white, I hear in surround sound, not mono, and little is a little changed.
I think that’s what happened to the disciples.
Eventually the disciples move, they leave this spot taking their unknowing, their wondering, their perplexities with them and they gather together, as Luke says in 24:52 ‘And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God’.
Despite not understanding what had happened they hold onto what they knew of Jesus and worshipped him. Worship is the act of adoration even, especially, in the midst of confusion and doubt. In that worship they find joy, not in their confusion but in their experience of Jesus and the God who was his father. Worship and joy have little or nothing to do with how we feel or what we can prove. It is always about faith in the midst of doubt and will never be any different.
The other thing they did which prepared them for the experience of the Spirits coming (Pentecost) was they ‘were continually in the temple’ reading the scriptures, telling stories about their experiences of Jesus and building up in each other the salvation story which would firstly prepare them for the return of Jesus as the spirit but secondly sustain the growing community of believers through those most difficult of days.
It wasn’t until they took time out, sat still, told yarns and corroboreed that they were ready for the power of Jesus to live within them at Pentecost. In our busy post-modern world where all is defined by its function, time out and yarning, corroboree, is little valued.
Many a night in my childhood I would sit on the outside of the group and listen to the adults in my family and community sit around a pot of tea and yarn – telling stories about their past, our past, growing sleepy to stories which embedded themselves in my being to be recalled at the most unusual of times.
Perhaps the words of the young men in Acts account are prophetic, not just for the disciples, but for us today. If we are going to sustain our lives and sustain the lives of others we have influence over, perhaps we should stop looking up for escape and salvation and sit still with others, tell our stories and wait. In waiting our stories will be validated and when the time is right they will become powerful, for us and for others.
“Why do you stand there looking up”?
The young men challenge us to change our perspective and look around. Engage the stories of others, not only those who believe like you but especially those who don’t, not only those who are the same as you but especially those who are not, and when you have made those stories your own you will find the power of the indwelling Christ and you will move freely, unencumbered through the world resisting the tendency to look up for escape or salvation. You will find that here and now, especially here in the midst of the cloud which sometimes clouds the wonder and beauty that is all around us each day.