Tomorrow is the feast of the Ascension. I have grown to look toward this major (and not often observed) feast of our Lord as a challenge to us, the Church, to both be mindful/observant of God's Kingdom coming while at the same time being agents of its arrival. Not an easy challenge to face, when you take time to think about it.
You see, if we are going to live our lives in anticipation of the coming of God's kingdom, then it hasn't happened yet, right? Conversely, if it has happened, then why are things in the world still in such a state? The easy answer to embrace is that we are caught in an in-between time, the time between when Jesus ascends to the Father in heaven and the moment when he returns. Of course, we get the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide, to abide with us here in this liminal state...but as I think about this explanation I confess no small amount of frustration. If we get all caught up in the "already, not yet" of God's kingdom, then what are we to do with our time and energy. Yes, we are called to act now in the name of Christ...but frankly this posture feels like we are sort of sitting in some terrestrial waiting room while God is off somewhere. We have an appointment, sure...but when is it that we are going to get our time with the Almighty? Just how many copies of "Highlights for Children" can we burn through during this suspension of realizing the fullness of time?
On the other hand, we could get impatient and set out to provoke God into the time when that fullness comes to pass. We will, in effect, "get all up in God's grill." There are groups in the Church who spend a lot of time and energy working toward that goal. What will begin about the end of days? A fully restored Israel? A purified Church? A numerologically unassailable interpretation of scripture that gives us the hour and the day?
Finally, for institutional types, there is a dropping of eyes away from our ascending Lord. Pragmatically, these folks just want to get on with the business of being the church-save with a distinct caveat. Within this pragmatism is a desire to "fix things." Some focus on the revival of traditions, others focus on innovation. Most, though, seem to be attempting to correct some brokenness in the Church, and to "fix it good and for all time."
So, what are we as the Church to do? Strive for the long view, while at the same time utterly and completely embracing the present moment as a way to live fully into the life of Christ. Simple, huh?
That sort of posture is truly a challenge to embrace. It means being a scholar of what has passed, a futurist in speculation and an expert in observation of the present.
The Church is not on its way to being perfected, nor is it declining from a Golden Age. It simply is, here and now, with a past that can inform and a future to prepare for without expressing anxiety.
After Jesus had ascended into heaven, his followers stood there looking up. After a while, they became aware to two men standing with them. Acts 1:11 has them ask the folks assembled, "Men (sic) of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
One could simply interpret this statement as a poeticized "what goes up must come down," or one can see it as an invitation to take an active role in the present. Get on with it, they seem to me to be saying. Get on with praying. Get on with hoping. Get on with doing, and proclaiming the Good News. Get on with remembering and telling stories. Get on with studying. Get on with dreaming.
One thing we are not invited to do in the time between the ascension and the return? Nothing.
Even sitting and waiting can be an active response to God, when it is done with mindful awareness and intention....