Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luke 24:50
If I were making a big budget Hollywood film of the Gospel according to Luke, I would definitely include this scene. The special effects could be stunning, and you know all those Renaissance artists who painted the Ascension would be totally jealous. Jesus could rise up, not unlike Superman. And the soundtrack! Wow.
But of course, for those of us who seek to follow Jesus today, the special effects are a distraction at best. I’ve heard people dismiss Ascension Day as quaint, if not pointless. After all, this thinking goes, we know that science doesn’t work that way. Never mind that we’re talking about Jesus after the resurrection. That is, the non-zombie back-from-the-dead defying-every-law-of-science Jesus. So why not ascend into heaven?
When I say the special effects are a distraction, what I really mean is that it’s the wrong way to frame the question. The right question is now how, but why? Several years ago, I read a meditation by, I think, Sam Portaro, that highlighted the blessing aspect of Ascension Day. Jesus offered a blessing that day in at least two ways. First, he lifted his hands and blessed them. Even more than this, his very departure is a kind of blessing. You see, when Jesus left his followers, he showed a great deal of trust. Jesus’ departure demonstrated that he trusted them — and us — to continue his ministry. Jesus trusts us. Trust is a blessing.
Perhaps the point of Ascension Day is that the burden of ministry shifts to us to carry on Christ’s work, equipped and inspired by the Holy Spirit. We can’t do this on our own, of course, but by God’s grace we can.
When we celebrate Ascension Day, we are not celebrating special effects or dramatic departures. Rather, today we are celebrating the fact that Jesus has given us the gift of trust and the joys of carrying on his ministry. Party on!
Think about a time someone blessed you by giving you their trust. Try passing along that blessing to someone else — trust someone. Oh, and try out the idea of carrying on Jesus’ ministry. Offer healing, hope, freedom, redemption, or new life to someone. You won’t be able to do it on your own, but you have lots of divine help.