Image: Aerial maneuvers over Inuvik
Our feast day begins with a reading from the very beginning of the book Acts. Acts is written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke and is the sequel or the follow-up to that Gospel. Luke begins the book of Acts with the conclusion of his Gospel presumably so that those who have not heard the story for a while, or are maybe are about to hear it for the first time, can get up to speed before they launch into the next chapter.
We are told, the risen Lord appeared to the Apostles and tells them that they need to wait in the city until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at which point they will have all the instructions they need to know what to do next.
We might recall that this was not a big ask, as the Apostles were not planning on going anywhere. They were still very much afraid and confused. They had not yet fully understood who Jesus was or why he had come. Luke even tells us that they are still wondering if he has come to rule over the kingdom of Israel as some kind of Earth-bound monarch. Then, we read, Jesus was lifted up before their eyes and disappeared into the clouds leaving them alone.
Luke is a masterful storyteller. He leaves us with such a great cliff-hanger as we wonder what could possibly come next. We are left with this incredible image of the group of puzzled, anxious, Apostles with their necks cricked back and eyes gaping toward the sky.
This is an image that I am sure can resonate with all of us at various points in our life, when we find ourselves blind-sided by one set-back or another. Life is great and then suddenly the ground seems to drop from underneath us. There is nothing we could have planned or done, and nothing has prepared us for what to do next.
And so, Luke begins the next chapter, moving from the life of Jesus to the life of this new Christian community of which we are all a part. It begins with awkward, confused paralysis. Nobody is sure where to go or what to do. Then two men, dressed in white, appear out of nowhere and they say the most important thing, “Why are you still standing here?” or in other words, “Get moving!”
Like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car the Apostles were fixed in place and needed to be pushed into their new reality. They still had no idea as to the future, but they knew they had to start somewhere, and it was not going to happen if they stayed in a field looking up at the sky. The Apostles come to understand that the ascension of the Lord is not Jesus abandoning them and leaving them alone, it is Christ allowing them to begin the next chapter which will be theirs to write. The tools that they need will soon be theirs but for now they simply need to keep faith and move forward.
That is good advice for when we are making those big changes in our life. We can talk about it all we want but until we actually take that first concrete step in a new direction it is only a dream. We don’t have to have every “i” dotted and “t” crossed before we start. We need to trust that if we what we want to do is good for us and good for our family then God will help us see it through. But we have to begin.
The Gospel today gives us a glimpse of what that direction forward looks like. This group of misfits, that Jesus called to be his disciples, let go of their fear and doubt and went on to change the world, bringing Good News and hope. Their message was, God has not abandoned us, as Jesus said, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”