Ascension Sunday reminds us of the day when Christ ascended to Heaven and is 40 days after Easter. But in our lectionary text this week from Luke, it is so much more.
Only about half of the verses deal with the ascension. The focus of the passage is on Jesus’ role as a fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus has fulfilled the entirety of those. And while, in this passage, he does depart the disciples, he does so almost nonchalantly, and without breaking the flow of the story. In fact, the disciples seem at ease with what happened; they just simply worship, rejoice and begin their new mission.
This passage from Luke represents a transitional moment from the resurrection into the ascension and then to the church’s mission into the world. It is a moment of fear and trembling, uncertainty, and wondering.
Ascension Day is not so much about the physical act of ascension, or even about the reuniting of the incarnate Word with the unbegotten Source. Rather, it is concerned with the divine act of making space so that the mission of the church can begin.
So long as God was in the world in human form, all eyes and hearts were fixed there. Jesus’ ascension makes space for the disciples to turn their gaze upon the world, where “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (24:47).