I sometimes wonder what would happen if some gloriously off-beat, definitely deluded writer attempted a pantomime script based on the Bible.
There would, I'm sure, be ample opportunity for cries of “Oh no he didn't! Oh yes he did” (what about John 3:16, for starters) – and of course, there are any number of truly amazing transformation scenes – as lepers are cleansed, the dead raised, the way of the cross becomes the way of life and peace – all culminating in the new heaven and new earth that we are promised when God's kingdom comes.
But it's the way that pantomime characters so often spend their time looking in completely the wrong direction that came to my mind as I thought about Ascension.
It's not the only time, of course, when God takes us by surprise...indeed, in the post Easter narratives it happens repeatedly.
And today here we are again
The disciples are craning their necks, trying to catch a final glimpse of Jesus (have you seen that wonderful window at Fairford, which depicts his toes vanishing into the clouds?) - only to be challenged by the angels – not quite “Look behind you” but rather......
“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
In other words – this is not “Good bye” but most certainly “Au revoir”.
They will see Jesus again.....just not yet.
Of course it is hard for them to let him go...after all, it was just 40 days since he had been restored to them, against all hope, against all reason, as he appeared in the upper room in his resurrection body.
Of course, they are inclined to stay put...to seek security in the place where they have last encountered Jesus – and I don't think that's such a foreign idea to most of us.
But the angels make it clear that God has another agenda.
Indeed, he has had another agenda all along.
‘Lord,’ they ask, ‘is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’
While they were waiting for dramatic action, an unmistakeable declaration that God IS God, that the ancient prophecies will be fulfilled and all made well
God sneaked off in another direction entirely, leaving them to hurry up and wait.
To wait to “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them”
To wait before they can set out as witnesses , to tell the great story in which they have been swept up, against all their expectations.
And in the meantime, while they wait........they pray.
Two millennia later, we wait as well.
We wait for that final fulfillment of the kingdom and, on a smaller scale, in the church's year, we wait to celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.
We wait to discover our own part in telling that great story....for this is our story too.
And as we wait – I hope we pray. For how else will we learn how best to join in with God's agenda
To return to our pantomime theme – some tell this story as a joke – but I'm more inclined to take it seriously.
What do you think?
When Jesus ascended to Heaven to return to His Father, the eleven disciples stood and watched Him rise through the clouds. An angel in the clouds nearby saw Jesus pass by and called out, "Jesus, where are you going?"
"Back to be with my Father in Heaven," he said.
"I thought you were going to bring salvation to the whole world!" the angel protested.
Jesus said, "I have. The atonement is complete. My work on earth is finished."
"But who is going to be your witness and go out into the world and spread the Good News and tell people you love them?"
"They are," Jesus said motioning toward his disciples.
The angel looked down on the rag-tag group of disciples. "Do you have a plan B?"
Remember – this is our story...That call to mission is ours...It is our turn to become witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
There IS no plan B.
“People of Selsley......why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.