Luke’s gospel ends with the somewhat astonishing image of Jesus being “carried up” to heaven, blessing the disciples left below, marking the transition from Easter to Pentecost, leaving them to carry on the work, to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
It’s a great ending to the gospel, but it’s an admittedly odd image: Jesus is just lifted up? (I confess that I can’t read this passage of Luke without thinking of the Lorax.) It’s all the more odd to us modern readers, because our cosmology has changed since those words were first written down. This story was first told in a time when we thought the world was flat, not round; there was, in theory, a literal “end” to the earth. The flat-earth paradigm also meant that “up” and “down” had different meaning. Heaven was up. If the earth was flat, then you could point to the place that was above the earth; not so much anymore.
But even if this story is a little cosmologically out of date, scholar Thomas H. Troeger points out (in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2, pg. 523) that there’s still something significant about “up.” That’s what our faith is about – we’re called ever upward. Those disciples who wave goodbye to Jesus from the earth below don’t just go back to their old lives. They go on to tell the story, to share the good news. They go on to be the church.
I’ve been thinking about that “up-ness” this week as I’ve watched our congregation do what it does best: being the church together. We’re remembering two beloved church members with memorial services this week, and the church is abuzz with preparations for both services. This weekend, I’m attending two different weddings of folks connected to the church, and on Sunday morning, one young family is bringing their new baby to be dedicated in worship. This is the church at work: we surround each other and care for one another through the whole spectrum of life: birth and death and everything in between.
“There is some resilience in the heart, some spring in the soul, some reaching beyond and above that will not die, that will not go away, that keeps calling to us, that beckons us beyond ourselves and in doing so gives us strength to live faithfully here and now.”
Jesus is carried up. We get up. We hold each other up. We look up, and discover that Christ is right here with us.
Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus carried up… and that’s right where the book of Acts begins: Jesus being lifted up, and the work of the church continuing on, to the very ends of the earth.
— Lee Hull Moses