The Feast of the Ascension always falls on a Thursday so it is easy for it to get lost in the middle of a usual work and school week. Forty days after Easter, it tells the story of Jesus return to heaven, bringing to a close the Resurrection appearances. It is an odd sort of story, one which can seem a little more as if it belongs to the realm of dragons and fairies than to any sort of rational religion.
Whatever the mechanics of the Ascension, and they are not at all clear from the Biblical narrative, the message is clear and presented in an almost comical way in the first Chapter of Acts. After Jesus has gone two men in white appear and say to the Disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?” Jesus has already told them that they are to go and tell the good news of the Gospel to Jerusalem and Judea and to the ends of the Earth – in other words, the angels say, “Stop gawking and get on with it!”
Forty is an important number in the Bible. The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the Wilderness before they found a home. Jesus spent forty days in the desert before he began to fully live into who he was. The Disciples and Jesus’ followers, that early Church, had forty days to learn what the great events which we celebrate in Holy Week and Easter called them to do. Now they are called to task, to live as Christ in the world.
Pentecost, that great day of birth and empowerment for the Church, is just around the corner. The Apostles will taste God’s presence in the fire and power of the Holy Spirit. This Ascension Day we are called, as they were, to stop staring up and waiting for something to happen. Instead we must come down from the mountain and be Christ’s body in the world.