Today is Ascension Day. It is 40 days after Easter. In Armenian, it is called “hambartzoum.”
We read about the event in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The author is the Evangelist, St. Luke, whose Gospel narrates Jesus’ earthly life from his Conception to his Resurrection. In the second “volume” he begins with the Ascension, and thus, he chronicles the development of the Christian Church.
St. Luke writes, “In my former book… I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
“…After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “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.”
And so begins the journey of the post-Resurrection community. It begins with them looking up! Up to the sky! And thus begins the notion that heaven is somewhere in the sky, in an upwardly direction, not necessarily North, but up.
Much of our concept of heaven comes from this particular passage. Most of us are familiar with a world map or a globe you find in geography classrooms. At the top is the Arctic circle and at the bottom is Antarctica. If you’ve even seen this map flipped, you know how odd it seems. Its oddity is in the fact that we are not familiar with the image. Likewise, the concept of heaven is engrained in us from images that have been projected in movies, stories, and even in Scripture.
Heaven is not only up, it is also around, within and without. St. Luke marks this occasion, “When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ’See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Today is Ascension. The disciples were looking up. Where are we looking?
Tomorrow we look further in that direction.