Emily C. Heath
When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" - Acts 1
When I was growing up, we lived about an hour from Cape Canaveral. On days when the space shuttle was going to be launched I would watch the news for the countdown: "three…two…one…liftoff!" Then I would run through the dining room, out the front door, and onto the driveway where I'd arrive just as the space shuttle cleared the top of our neighbor's roof. I would watch it soar up into the sky until I couldn't see it anymore.
I think that when I first read about Jesus' ascension into heaven that's the way I envisioned it, with Jesus shooting up into the heavens space age style. Scripture tells us that Jesus was "lifted up" into the clouds, after all. But the disciples, meanwhile, were standing around, looking up, and wondering what in the world just happened.
Scripture also tells us that while they were standing there two men in white approach and ask, essentially, "Why are you standing around with your heads in the clouds?"
The Book of Acts starts with the story of Jesus' ascension. It's about the first days of the church without Jesus. It's about a group of people learning how to be the church together in new ways. And sometimes that was confusing and daunting, and sometimes they felt better looking up in the clouds and asking, "Now where did that guy with all the answers go?"
That probably doesn't feel all that unfamiliar to those of us who are trying to be the church 2000 years later. Sometimes the church needs people like those two guys in white. We need them to call our attention back from gazing up at the clouds all the time and turning it towards the world we are in now. And we need them to remind us that we have a task here as disciples of Christ. Because with the ascension the baton has been passed; we are left as witnesses to Christ's life and work, and we are called to be the church.
The clock is ticking, and the time is now. Three . . . two . . . one . . . liftoff.
Risen Christ, we pray that when our heads are stuck in the clouds looking for you, you would send messengers to remind us to look back around at the world. And when we are suffering from a "failure to launch," we ask you to help us hear the countdown and rise to the challenge you have left for us all. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the pastor of West Dover Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in West Dover, Vermont. She also serves as the chaplain of a local fire department, and as a speaker and writer on Christian faith and social justice.