For those of you keeping track, today (May 13) marks forty days since we gathered as the church to celebrate on Easter morning. That means today is when the church remembers Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Luke is the only gospel that includes an account of an ascension. Briefly mentioned at the very end of Luke, the ascension serves as a segue to the author’s second volume—the Book of Acts, which begins with a fuller account and timeline of Jesus’ ascension.
Following the resurrection, the Book of Acts begins by saying how Jesus spent the next forty days with the disciples and gives them one final word of instruction before “he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of sight.” Jesus’ last words to the disciples were a blessing and promise that have reverberated throughout our readings in the Book of Acts. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.”
As both an ending and a beginning, the ascension marks a transition. With Jesus no longer there with them, the small group that followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem were faced with the challenge and opportunity to become the church in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We’re been following this expansion of their witness not just geographically, but generationally as well.
Ever since that day so long ago, Christ’s followers have been trying to figure out what it means to be church. History shows that we haven’t always made the right choice, but the good news is that the good news of Christ’s love, the power of resurrection, and promise of new life are more resilient than the mistakes we’ve made. So on this Day of Ascension, I pray we raise up a song of thanksgiving for how the Spirit has brought us to this point and offer up a prayer for guidance as we keep trying to figure out how to be the church today.