Ironically, the Feast of the Ascension is the day we begin our decent back down to earth. For forty days we’ve been contemplating the meaning of resurrection, just as the disciples had been doing. The account in the Act of the Apostles tells us that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” He was imparting his final teachings to them while preparing them for life after his departure. Now, at the very moment of Jesus’ ascension, while the disciples were looking up into the sky, “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’”
The two men dressed in white are the two men who, in Luke’s gospel, spoke to the women who came to the tomb on the day of the resurrection. They asked a similar question of the women at the tomb as they later asked the disciples on the day of the ascension. “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?”
The two men in white are asking the women, and the disciples, to start thinking in a new way. Jesus has been raised from the dead and returned to the Father – he is Christ. They recognize Jesus, however, he’s different. He has a subtle body; he slips in and out of time and space. Doors don’t keep him out, but he’s not a spirit. He eats with them. In John’s gospel the resurrected Christ even makes breakfast for the apostles!
The questions of the two men dressed in white are an invitation to us to stop thinking in the old way when we believed that heaven was separated from earth. Think of the Easter Vigil service when we proclaim, “Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever…Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God.”
We so often listen to these words with our old ears – they only hear messages of doom and gloom – of an angry God demanding reparation for our mistakes. The message of resurrection is that heaven and earth are wedded! Christ himself manifests this in his body, a body that’s not bound by time and space, and yet carries his wounds. When Thomas put his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side he experienced the Christ event, immediately crying out, “My Lord and my God.” In Jesus Christ – heaven is united to earth. In Christ we are made whole and carry God within us.
But we need assistance to begin thinking in the new way – the way of resurrection. We need the Spirit’s assistance to claim the Christ in us – to do what Christ did – to love the way God loves. So, we turn our eyes to Pentecost. Stop looking among the dead for one who is alive. Stop looking to the sky to see where Jesus went. Christ is alive and present to us. Christ didn’t go anywhere. He’s in heaven and on earth. He’s is you and in me. In the Christ in us, heaven is wedded to earth.