Today - May 9th is the 40th day of Easter (not "after", but "of") which calls us to remember and to mark the Ascension of Jesus. This 40th date never falls on a Sunday and unless we choose to move its celebration to a Sunday, it often gets missed altogether.
And yet, the image of this scene is an incredible call to faith!
In my first parish (St. John's Lutheran, Elma, NY), there was a painting of the ascension on the wall behind the altar. It actually was a wallpaper painting that then got touched up around the edges over the years (the exact same one could also be found at St. John's Lutheran Lancaster, NY). I don't know if it was the persuasion of the salesman or what it was specifically about this painting that drew two local congregations to pick this particular scene from scripture, but I am happy that they did.
For you see, Acts 1:6-11 rarely comes up in our weekly lectionary readings; it gets skipped over for the more exciting Pentecost passage (Acts 2:1-12) with their tongues of fire and the gospel being proclaimed in so many different languages.
Still, this image is an incredible call to faith!
Imagine it in your mind's eye: the disciples' are still filled with the joy and wonder of the rising of Jesus. All their thoughts of his brutal death have been wiped away by his very presence among them. He continues to teach them and do amazing miracles, all pointing to the power of the resurrection to transform the world in which they live and move and have their being.
On this one particular day, he is lifted up into the heavens, disappearing from their sight.
Their gazes follow him up, higher and higher, trying to keep him in view for as long as they could. Is he coming back down? Will we see him again? What now?
As their eyes are still focused in the heavens, two men in white appear and ask "whatcha lookin' at?" (my "translation"). Their question calls the disciples' back to earth, back into the life that Jesus had prepared for them. It is not back to life as usual, but back into the life that Christ has called us into.
We cannot keep our eyes trained on the heavens. We need to watch where we are going - or we might miss something. While Jesus did ascend into heaven and we are called to keep our eyes focused in faith on God, we are also called back into the world to be Jesus' hands and feet in the world. We are to focus our vision on those who have fallen, who are struggling to stand, and who need to be lifted up.
Jesus was lifted up and we are given a vision about more than just a better place. We are called to see the ways in which Christ lifts up the world through grace, forgiveness and hope. We remember that "love builds up" (I Corinthians 8:1c). Christ's love lifts us up to be transformed by his grace.
We do keep our eyes on God, but we remember that Christ's eyes are focused on all those who need to be lifted up.