Why stand looking?
A reflection for The Ascension of the Lord, Year A
by Deacon Eric Gurash
In our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we are presented with this odd little scene of Jesus, gradually rising into the air, slowly getting smaller and smaller and obscured by clouds while the Apostles look on in wonder and confusion. It is a confusion met by two strangers (a term Scripture often uses in reference to angelic beings), who ask pointedly, "Why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus," they continue, "will come in the same way you saw him go."
What are we to make of this? Surely it cannot mean that we are to continue watching the skies throughout the millennia for that time when Jesus will descend again to join us on earth. The disciples were told to stop doing that very thing.
"He will come in the same way you saw him go." If not on a cloud, then what do they mean?
Unexpectedly? In ways that surprise and shock us?
Suddenly? As Jesus seems to have done here, in the middle of a conversation?
I would propose this is precisely the focus Luke, and our Church on this solemn feast, want us to have. Luke has been building to this moment for some time. Of all the Gospel writers, he is the only one who takes two volumes to tell his story.
In his Gospel, Luke details the things that Jesus said and did from his birth to his Resurrection. In the book of Acts, we are given the details of the Early Church receiving power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. This is followed by a string of events that should seem incredibly familiar: Peter healing a lame man, healing a paralyzed man, raising a dead girl, and healing crowds of people. Later we see Paul similarly healing a disabled man, raising a dead man, and casting out demons.
What we see here is nothing less than the continuation of the Gospel, the continuation of the Mission of Jesus Christ as the Apostolic and Spirit-filled Church begin to do and say those same things that Jesus said and did.
And to what purpose?
Luke desires to show, beyond any doubt, that the Jesus who walked, taught, preached, and healed, who suffered and died and rose again is the very same Jesus, alive and well and acting concretely within the men and women of the Church.
By the end of his work, Luke wants there to be no doubt that when we see the people of the Church acting with love in the world, we are seeing the risen Jesus acting with love in the world.
In this context, the idea of standing and waiting, looking up to heaven for Christ to return on a cloud, is indeed absurd. He will come, he has come, and he is coming right here and right now in our Spirit-filled midst.
This has been a most unusual Easter season. A time of isolation, of waiting, and of encountering the risen Christ in ways that we may not have been as intentional about in the past. We have not been able to proclaim the Good News as we have been used to. We've been challenged in new and often uncomfortable ways to expand our ideas and experiences of the spiritual life, grace, mercy, faith, hope, and love beyond the parish walls and beyond the Eucharistic sacrament.
Perhaps we can hear echoes of the strangers' challenge in our hearts as we gaze longingly at the closed doors of our churches: "Why do you stand looking?"
Today's message of hope reminds us that this Jesus will come as he has always come, in the surprising and unexpected movements of the Spirit unbound by the smallness of our spaces and limitations. Today we sit filled with impatience, with angst, with the same kind of building energy that must have filled the hearts and souls of the Apostles. I pray that we see, each in our own ways, that surge of power released in our lives and in the world, not as we have done before but in the exciting and unexpected newness and creativity of the Holy Spirit that are the surest signs of the risen Christ alive and well in our midst.
The readings for The Ascension of the Lord, Year A, are
Ordained as a permanent deacon in June of 2018, Eric Gurash is a former radio personality and convert to the Catholic faith. He is a certified spiritual director, popular speaker, and retreat leader. Having spent 14 years in full-time parish ministry, he now serves as deacon for Holy Rosary Cathedral in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Director of Communications and Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Regina, where, among other duties, he co-hosts their weekly Thinking Faith podcast.