The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, on the Feast of the Ascension in 2011.
“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up to the sky?”
Here they are again. These two men dressed in white asking obvious questions. We first met them in the tomb in Luke’s account of the resurrection with their question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The question implies that the followers of Jesus are looking in the wrong place. But really it is a natural place to look for the man they thought they left for dead. And then these “men in white” go on to give specific directions to those who have come to the tomb. Go spread the message about the risen Christ. Go, tell people I am alive.
In today’s reading, we hear those men in white ask, “Why are you standing here looking up to the sky?” Well, I think that is a natural thing for the disciples to do…after all Jesus has just disappeared from them in some sort of cloud and they were trying to make some sense of what was going on. I think I would have been right there with them looking up to the sky. This time the question of the “men in white” seems also to imply that the disciples were looking in the wrong place. Or maybe in the wrong direction.
In the case of both questions though, they are questions that are meant to move to action. At the time of the Resurrection, the “men in white” told the disciples what to do specifically. Today, there are no specific directions given by the “men in white,” but Jesus Himself gave the directions this time. Don’t’ stand here looking up but go and start looking around. I am sending you to Judea and Samaria and even the ends of the earth. You heard my messengers. Don’t stand here looking up at the sky; start looking around.
Look around you for creatures everywhere who need to hear the word of God. Look around you for people who need healing— spiritual and emotional healing as well as physical healing. Look around you for people who need to learn how to cope with what life is giving them. Look around for those who do not believe and tell them the good news of my message; love God and then your neighbor as yourself. Look around you to meet the daily needs of the hungry, the thirsty, those who mourn, those who are in prison.
And imagine if you can, what it would be like if the “men in white” would come here and ask us “Hey, you! Why are you sitting here looking up?” Would we realize that it is not about looking up but rather it is about looking around? Would we realize that it is about service to others? Would we be willing to reach out to our neighbor and offer whatever we can to help? We hear Paul telling us that there are lots of different gifts that God gives us. Some are pastors, some are apostles, others are evangelists and still others are teachers. All these gifts are used to build up the body of Christ. Would we recognize our gifts and use them for building up the Body of Christ?
But wait you say…all of this is a big order. It was a big order for the disciples, and it is a big order for each of us. The good news is that Jesus did not expect His followers to go to the end of the earth alone. Paul tells us He said, ”You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. In a few days you will be baptized in the Spirit.” And Paul says again “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
And just as Jesus did not expect the disciples to carry out His command alone, He does not expect us to carry out ours alone. We, too, can rely on the Holy Spirit. We, too, can rely on grace being given to us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. So, I guess we better get started…we better get started looking around.
Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth…the Spirit is about to come…Jesus now has no hands but ours and He has no feet but ours. So,” Hey, you! Don’t sit here looking up to the sky, get started looking around.”