Looking at the Sky

A Homily on the Ascension of the Lord

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Acts 1:1-11

I remember as a child and even with my children times when I would lay down on my back on a grassy lawn and look at the sky.  The best days were when the sky was mostly a clean, clear blue, with a few white puffy clouds lazily drifting by.  To me, the sky said, “Welcome.”  As I was lifted up into another world, the clouds start taking shape and an epic story would unfold before my wonder-filled eyes.  One cloud might transform into a dragon.  Another a troll, another a castle.  I would hold my breath as they chased each other across the blue screen above.  Do you remember how you felt when you took some time to stop and look at the sky? 

If you accepted the invitation, the sky would most certainly transport you into another world.  The old world of time, with its busy-ness and bossy-ness and chores would be quickly forgotten and replaced with a world out of imagination, hope and delight.  Time stopped.  While gazing at the sky above, you perhaps came to understand the meaning of the words ‘happily ever after’. 

Scripture says Jesus was taken up, and a cloud took him from their sight, two men dressed in white garments said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky.”  They were looking at the sky for maybe the same reason I as a child would gaze at the sky.  They were captivated by a new world filled with countless delightful possibilities.  They saw their destiny – the hope for the same glory shared by Christ. 

This is what we celebrate on this Ascension Day.  The hope that the glory of Christ now seated at the right hand of the Father will one day be our own glory.

We are meant to recall the same feelings that I had when looking at the sky.  Though we have to plod sometimes heavily around in the chaos and messy-ness of this world, we are also one gaze – or the glimmer of one thought – away from our true destiny, that which remains above where there indeed is a ‘happily ever after.’  When we realize this simple fact, our life no longer becomes a drudgery.  We are not meant to live one day after the next, always anxious about the future, tense and unsatisfied with the present, regretting the mistakes of the past.  Christ has given to the world a new hope beyond any other hope – that we are destined to share fully in his glory.   

The poet Byron said it like this.  “Between two worlds, life hovers like a star.”  My life, your life, hovers like a twinkling star.  Kate Farrell in “Faithful to Mystery” offers this commentary: 

We belong to two worlds:  the invisible, hard-to-know eternal one… and the noisy, obvious, temporal one all around us.  We live among the dirt and the noise where everything gets old with time.  While we go about our work, we cannot overlook the other world.  We are made for eternity.  We are made to spend forever in the hands of the divine.  Ours is the life that hovers in between like a star.

Today we celebrate the between-ness of the two worlds, heaven and earth.  Given the light of life by the very breath of God, we hover like a star – maybe a five pointed star where one leg is touching this world of time-demands and commitments and the other leg of the star resting solidly on the throne of Christ, who has ascended to his glory and now sits at the right hand of God. 

As we go about our daily tasks, with deadlines and commitments, its stress and its anxieties, its sorrow and its pain, it is easy to forget this.  It is easy to get in a rut, and hobble around with just one leg firmly planted in this world and the other unconnected with our divine origins.  Then we lose our way or get burned out.  Our vision is limited, our potential diminished.

The poet Rilke, in “Evening” says it a little differently:

The evening slowly changes…
you watch as one world rises toward heaven
and the other sinks down beneath your feet
leaving you not at home in either one;
your life, vast and frightened and ever deepening…
your life is sometimes a stone in you, and sometimes a star.

Jesus, however, has given us his Spirit which allows us to connect the stone and the star.  The Spirit of Christ is the bridge between the matter and the spirit.  Better than a bridge image, like those bridges that span a great chasm between two tall mountains, the Spirit of Christ links us like a rainbow ‘spanning the divide and connecting them harmoniously together’ under its colorful bow.  (see Farrell)

In short, you are here to continue to animate the world with the presence of Christ.  Your destiny is to share in his glory in heaven. 

When was the last time you looked at the sky?  I am not speaking literally but figuratively.  When have you placed all of these worldly worries, the pain and the disappointments in the perspective of this eternal hope? 

In our busyness, it is easy to forget to look to the sky.  We tend to think life is all toil and drudgery, and when we die, we will finally experience peace.  We forget we are built for the infinity.   We like gazing at the sky because we are destined to share in the wonders and glory that Christ now shares with God. 

The message today, the day we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, is to gaze upwards and remember what it’s like to enter the infinite possibilities and delight that await us, and let that be our great hope.