I was raised well after the Disney-fication of the most of world’s great fairy tales, and so I didn’t actually learn most of the lessons they were meant to teach the children of earth. Growing up in a firmly suburban setting, I didn’t really need most of those lessons, many of which dealt with wandering off into the woods. Perhaps I should be thankful, since most of those old stories, especially the German fairly tales, are downright brutal.
“One story I remember was titled “Hans Guck-in-der-Luft,” which I would roughly translate, “Hans Head in-the-Clouds” (literally: Hans Look-in-the-Air)… Hans is a little boy who is forever daydreaming, forever walking around with his eyes fixed on birds, butterflies, treetops. The result is that he keeps bumping into lampposts, tripping over uneven sidewalks, running into old ladies. Throughout the story adults chide Hans for his dreaminess and they warn him to pay attention, to get his head out of the clouds. But Hans does not listen and so at the end of the story he walks straight off a cliff and is smashed to death on the rocks below. Sweet dreams, boys and girls!”1
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? You keep this up and you’ll fall off this mountain.” Well, that’s not exactly what the angel said. “This Jesus,” he said, “who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” This might be the first recorded instance of someone being told to not be so heavenly minded that they’ll be no earthly good.
It was also probably pretty funny to the angel, watching these guys standing on a mountain, staring into the sky, looking for Jesus. I don’t know what Jesus’ ascension looked like, but I doubt that it looked like He jet-packed it off the Mount of Olives. I doubt He pulled the ‘evil magician’ move either, breaking the smoke bomb on the floor and flinging his cape and running off.
For the disciples, one moment Jesus was standing in front of them, and the next moment He was gone. He most likely didn’t sink into the ground, and so He must have gone up, and so they didn’t think to look anywhere else but up. And, of course, that’s exactly what He did; Jesus ascended to a higher place, His home, really – He went home to see His Dad.
“However, as an instant sign that Jesus’ having gone up was not an indication that the work was leaving with him, the next thing you know, there are angels standing with them. And please notice: Angels standing with them down here on earth. Mostly if you want to see an angel, you’d guess you have to look up, not down, not beside you, not at your back. But not this time. As a further sign that the work of witness to Jesus was going to be a decidedly earthly affair, the angels are down here too. They tell the disciples that Jesus will indeed come back one day via this route (in reverse) but it won’t be on account of the disciples’ staring uselessly into the clouds.”2
In the meantime, the disciples, and so by extension, all of us, were given a mission. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses,” Jesus tells us, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
We fulfill that mission every time we open those doors and welcome the world in. We fulfill that mission every time we go out those doors with Christ on our minds, His Name on our lips; when we right what’s wrong, when we give, when we forgive, we fulfill that mission. Our actions matter, and the stakes are high. But the mission is rigged in our favor. Though Jesus has ascended out of our sight, “the new and undefeatable life of the risen Christ is present in us, again through the Spirit. (Christ) is with us so closely that we can truly call ourselves the body of Christ; (as our kids who will receive their first Holy Communion this weekend, He is with us in His Body and Blood at that rail), and (He) will be with us in this way forever, on earth as in heaven.”3
Should we look to heaven? Of course! But heaven is only truly attainable by abiding in that same Jesus who sent us where? Out into the all the world, to spread the Good News, to be His Body here on earth.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.
3The Rev. Fr. Bret B. Hays, Easter 6