They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been
taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!
Acts of the Apostles 1: 11.
When our God visited the earth, the modes of his arrival and departure were completely unexpected. He came as a baby - hidden, humble, and absolutely surprising in commonness. He came like everyone because He had something for everyone. When He left, Jesus did so in plain sight. He did not simply vanish; He ascended. He was gone but not in such a way that his imminent return has not even a daily possibility; just as He promised.
The Ascension of Jesus was not nearly so much an end as a new beginning. When He disappeared into the clouds, the anticipation began as it does for us here and now. Our heavenly Father intended it to be an active, adventuresome, meaningful anticipation. We are directed to watch and wait, busily. When we focus too much on watching, we do not carry out his commands. When we lean too much on the waiting, we begin to lose sight of his promise to return.
Everyone has an opinion and everyone has to choose a side. We cannot be neutral on an issue like this. To whom do we belong? Apathy? Not this time. It is one side or the other. All have to choose. And of course the disciples did. For every cunning Caiaphas there was a daring Nicodemus. For every cynical Herod, there is a questioning Pilate. For every pot-mouth thief there was a truth-seeking one. For every turncoat Judas, there is a faithful and beloved John. There was something about the Cross that made every witness either step forward toward it or away from it. It simultaneously repelled and compelled. And the same thing is true about the Resurrection and subsequent events. Today, two thousand years later, the same is true. It is a watershed. It is the Continental Divide. It is the Battle of Normandy. And we must stand on one side or the other. A choice is demanded. We can do what we want with the cross. We can make decisions about Resurrection victory. We can examine the history and study their theology. We can reflect on its prophecies. But one thing we cannot do is walk away from their reality and how we are drawn into their orbit. We cannot be neutral. No fence-sitting is permitted. The Cross and its absurd splendor do not allow that. The empty tomb and its echo of victory do not permit that kind of empty response. That is a luxury our generous and grandiose God does not permit. On whose side are you?
The Ascension is the consummation of the Transfiguration. Our Lord now goes back to his primal glory, but He does not go back simply as the Son of God, this time He enters his rightful place also as the Son of Man. He has us with him!
There is now freedom of access for anyone straight to the very throne of God by the Ascension of the Son of Man. As Son of Man Jesus deliberately accepts limited omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience in himself. Now they are his in absolute full power. With the Ascension, the Son of Man has all power at the throne of the Father. He is King of kings, Lord of lords until now and forever.
A cloud receives him. It is the same glory cloud that filled the tabernacle and the temple, the one which led Moses and the Chosen People. In his high-priestly prayer He prayed, "I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now Father, glorify me at your side, a glory I had with you before the world began" John 17: 4, 5. When He was born on this earth in the flesh, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, as He returns to the Father He is wrapped in the glory clouds of heaven.
It is the glorified Christ who goes to heaven. This same Jesus, the glorified Jesus, will return to the same place. "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall stand in the midst between the east and the west and there shall be a very great valley and half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south" Zechariah 14: 4. He departed from us at that place and He will return to us at that very same place.
Those first disciples stood there for awhile staring up at the sky. Apparently, they were immobilized by yet another surprising turn of events. A heavenly messenger had to remind them that there was great work to be done before Jesus would once again come in the same way He had left. We are now in the in between time when we watch, work and wait. Jesus has prepared a place and He will return. Will we be ready? Now we think about the serious implication of his farewell words, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find any faith on earth" Luke 18: 8?