St. Luke 24.vv.45-52
~ Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high". 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. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God. ~
Ascension is the most neglected of the Christian festivals. In days gone by school children always had a holiday on Ascension Day and many people attended church. The event that it commemorates is one of great significance; forty days after the Resurrection of Jesus and ten days before the giving of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was taken up into heaven. Those who are sceptical about the exact nature of this event must at least acknowledge that Jesus has returned to the Father from whom he came, for he is ever present and ever living to those who love him.
On the Mount of Olives there is a landmark visible from the Jordan Valley - the slender tower or spire of the Church of the Ascension silhouetted like an upright pencil against the sky, a reminder that this remarkable event took place there. Perhaps the simplest pictorial representation of the event is to be found in York Minster. About half way down the nave if you look up you can clearly see carved in stone upon a boss in the roof the soles of a pair of feet!
St. Luke in his account of the Ascension (Acts 1.v.10 - 11) makes mention of two figures asking the Apostles, "Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?". They might well gaze in wonder, awe and longing as their Master parted from them, but they had a mission to fulfil and must descend from the mount of glory to the everyday world. The significance of this event was threefold.
First, it marked a new beginning. As he had promised, Jesus was to be with his followers no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit. This was a curtain raiser to Pentecost and victorious living.
Secondly, it was an end. Christ's victory over death was complete. Jesus said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people to myself" - probably it was to this event that He referred.
Thirdly, it was a sign that Jesus is an ever present friend in our youth and in old age, the timeless One whom we find not spatially but in the heart and mind as we acknowledge him as Saviour and Lord, when we gladly submit and entrust our lives, our dreams, our ambitions and powers to him.
Why stand gazing into the heavens? As a helmsman at sea can gain no help or guidance from looking around him on the open sea, even so we, if we are to gain our destination, must look up to the heavens where our Saviour Christ has gone before.