Let the Scriptures Speak
Who Loves First?
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1:11)
The words of the interpreting angels in Luke's account of Jesus' final departure in Acts provide an antidote to any NASA-like preoccupations regarding the physics or logistics of Jesus’ ascension. The New Testament is not interested in the mode by which the risen Jesus was transferred to the realm of glory. Luke uses assumption language from the Old Testament (Enoch and Elijah) as an image for the reality of the final withdrawal of the risen Jesus' physical presence from the assembled disciples.
It is instructive that Luke can present the same event in two different ways. In one place (Acts 1:6), it occurs on Easter night and is described simply as being taken up into heaven; whereas in another this final withdrawal occurs forty days later, with an array of what one scholar has called “apocalyptic stage props”—movement upward into the heavens, a cloud as vehicle, and interpreting angels (Lk: 24:1). This language recalls the transfiguration, looks forward to Pentecost, recalls Elijah, and points toward the parousia. In a third account, in the appendix to Mark at Mk 16:19, it is pictured as happening on Easter Sunday, at an indoor setting (“while they were at table”). Each account is a way of affirming that Jesus’ final physical departure was a transition leading from the glory of the resurrection to the mission of the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The accounts urge us not upward but forward.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
**From Saint Louis University