Imagine being corrected by angels! This was the experience of the disciples, in the story of the ascension of Jesus. In the book of Acts, chapter one, we are told about how our Lord Jesus “ascended into heaven”.
“(Jesus said to his disciples) you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’”
The angels said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking towards heaven?” Why is that like correction? It is easy to think that in his “ascension” our Lord Jesus had gone off into heaven and left us to our own devices here on earth
But the word of the two angels is unexpected and vital, to steer our heavenward gaze to God’s chosen workplace, which is here on earth amongst us. This is the whole story of the incarnation. God became flesh as “Immanuel” in the manger, to reveal God’s heart of gracious compassion towards us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God’s desire is to be with us.
In the word of the angels at the ascension, the disciples are told that Jesus has not simply gone away, but will be present with them – in profound and majestic ways beyond all that they could only imagine … in fulfilment of all of Jesus’ promises, especially that promise to be us always … surely … to the close of the age.
So, the word of the angels is like “correction” because gazing off into heaven is simply looking for the Lord Jesus in the wrong place. The angels are really directing us, and the disciples to anticipate the Lord would be present and at work in the places where he promised to be. So where are those places?
Firstly, the ascension means that our Lord Jesus can be everywhere. When we say in the Creed that he “sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty” we are not speaking simply of a place. Rather this means that he is everywhere, for he is the fullness of God. There is no place I could go to, where I cannot call to him, trusting he is with me always.
Secondly, the ascension means that our Lord Jesus can be discovered in those particular places where he chooses to be found. So he is known in the sacrament of the Altar where his body and blood are given for he is really present in, with and under the bread and wine. He is present where his word is used with water in baptism, giving his gifts and holy Spirit to the newly baptised person. He is also present where the Gospel is preached for he is the living word who brings forgiveness of sin through the preaching of this good news. He is also present in his body we call the Church where we each serve, as Dr Martin Luther once said, as little Christs to each other and to the world.
The wonderful ascension story gives us the “notification” from the two angels, to diligently anticipate the Lord Jesus is truly present amongst us, just as he promised.
The Lord be with you.