“Why are you standing there?”
The angels who spoke these words to the astounded disciples now turn to ask us this question today. Perhaps, like the disciples after the Ascension, we too have been stuck looking up at the sky, wondering where Christ is.
Our answers to the angels’ question are probably very legitimate. “I am standing here because of the pandemic, because I lost my job, because of isolation, because of sickness, because of racial discord, because of people’s differences, because I don’t know what else to do.”
In this passage from today’s Gospel reading, which is the same as this upcoming Sunday’s, I remind myself that at least the disciples were looking up. They at least had their eyes fixed on Christ. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But what God wants to convey through the angels after Jesus’ Ascension is that just seeing Christ or believing in him is not enough. A relationship with Christ results not in paralysis, but in action.
“You will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells his disciples moments before he ascends to the Father.
And it is by living out our relationship with Christ as witnesses that the world comes to know him and that our faith comes alive. Witnessing to our faith and accompanying others on their faith journeys shake us out of our paralysis and help us overcome our fear. Jesus is not conveying that hardship, suffering, or unrest will be absent from our lives, but that these no longer have the power to paralyze and trap us. His Resurrection has changed the narrative. And as the Easter season comes to a close, Jesus is calling us not only to believe in him, but to act— to have our lives transformed by the knowledge of the Resurrection and to live boldly and faithfully as a result.
At this point, however, the disciples are still focused on earthly things. Just before Jesus’ Ascension, they ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Many of us have similar questions.
“Lord, at this time will I get my job promotion? As this time, will my addiction be healed? At this time, will the pandemic end? At this time, will our family be reconciled?”
These are valid, important questions of the human heart. Questions that long for answers, for resolutions, for miracles.
Jesus’ response seems mystifying and even unrelated:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”
While the disciples are still caught focusing on the restoration of Israel and victory over their oppressors, Christ promises more. So much more, in fact, that they are unable to grasp it without the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on the Feast of Pentecost on May 23rd.
It is why Jesus chose to ascend at this time. He had spent 40 days teaching and opening the Scriptures to his disciples after his Resurrection, but they still could only fathom human goals and objectives. Jesus knows his ministry has come to an end and that a new chapter of the Church will begin with the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
After he answers them, Jesus compels his disciples to look up to the heavens as he begins to ascend to the Father. He is physically showing them the needed disposition of their hearts and minds in order to receive the Holy Spirit: they should be considering heavenly things and a heavenly goal.
But then, moments later, they are startled to hear: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
It can be tempting at times to separate ourselves from the reality of the here and now by over-spiritualizing things or being preoccupied with the past or future. The disciples are left looking up (very understandably), but this looking up and clinging to Jesus in his physical form distracts them from the action to which he has called and chosen them: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
This balance between living in the world but not of it can be difficult to grasp and practice.
It’s important first to consider where you find yourself today. Are you asking the Lord to restore the kingdom to Israel? Are you standing looking at the sky? Many of us are somewhere in between.
Below are 6 practices that help ground me in Christ and deepen my ability to witness to his love:
By considering these practices, it is my hope that, renewed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will enter into Ordinary Time ready to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. Christ calls us each to so much more than simply remain standing.
For more resources on living as missionary disciples, please click here.