30 May 2019Acts 1:1-11
'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.' (v. 11)
Psalm: Psalm 47, 93
Take a moment to look up to the nave vault in York Minster and you might just notice the soles of two golden feet, surrounded by the shocked faces of the eleven remaining apostles and Mary. This somewhat unusual depiction of Jesus ascending to heaven helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of Jesus’ friends as they watched him be “lifted up” (v. 9) out of their sight.
Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter and 10 days before Pentecost. Luke’s accounts of the Ascension (see also Luke 24:50-53) are the only ones we have – Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus’ injunction to “Go … and make disciples” (28:19); Mark’s (probably) with the terrified women fleeing the empty tomb (16:8); and John’s with breakfast on the beach (chapter 21). However, the twin themes that the risen Jesus must ascend to be with the Father and that his followers could nevertheless continue in relationship with him through the power of the Spirit do appear elsewhere (eg John 20:17, 22).
Ascension Day is yet another moment in the life of the Church when we practise the art of waiting. During Advent, we wait for the moment when the baby Jesus will once again be placed carefully in a manger in Bethlehem. During Lent, we wait for Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death – on Holy Saturday, we hold our breath for the discovery of the empty tomb and the cry of "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" on Easter Day. On Ascension Day, we remember Jesus’ instruction to the apostles not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will be sent by the Father (v. 4 – see also Sunday’s notes). Sometimes we focus so hard on waiting for promises for the future to be fulfilled, or on remembering the events of the past, that we – like the apostles – need a gentle nudge to stop gazing upwards at Jesus’ receding feet, and to look around us instead at the glimpses of God’s kingdom in the here and now.
- Why do you think Luke included an account of the ascension at the end of his Gospel and again at the beginning of Acts?
- There is some debate about the exact length of time between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. What connections might Luke have been trying to evoke by suggesting it was “forty days” (v. 3)?
- Think about different kinds of ‘farewell’. How do you think the apostles felt watching Jesus disappear into heaven (perhaps compared to the moment they watched him die on the cross)?