WHY DO YOU STAND GAZING UP INTO HEAVEN?
(Ascension, May 25)
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem…” (Acts 1:9-12)
What did the eleven disciples do, after they returned to Jerusalem? Did they *only* pray and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit? No. They did, indeed, pray in “the upper room” with the rest of the community, ca. 120 people, as we learn from the Book of Acts 1:14: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” But they also “in those days” (before Pentecost) cast lots and elected Matthias, to replace Judas as one of the twelve, “and he (Matthias) was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:26b) In other words, they also tended to a church-administrative matter, a matter of church “order.” One often hears the popular misconception that church-hierarchy and order(s) came *later*, – and it is of course true, that these evolved throughout the ensuing several centuries. But already “in those days,” even before Pentecost, the Apostles recognize a need to maintain the specific number twelve, of those who share in “this ministry and apostleship,” as they pray before casting lots and electing (from two candidates) the new apostle, Matthias: “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”
My point is, in case any of us imagine an Early Church with no concern for maintaining a specific *order* in a specific ministry and *office*, – don’t. The messy business of managing and organizing church-ministry, here and now, by fallible human beings, began even before Pentecost. Isn’t this what the “two men in white apparel” told the Apostles to do, essentially, – to stop just standing there, gazing up into heaven? They had work to do, here and now, for which they would be held accountable, because “this same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,” was coming back. Let us take heart, then, when we are confronted with the messy and frustrating aspects of church-administration, *canonical* order, etc. Our Lord is coming back, “in like manner as we saw Him go into heaven” on this wonderful day of His ascension, and will hold all of us accountable, for how we tended to our responsibilities in His Church. (BTW I love that in this icon, posted here, the Mother of God is the only one looking at *us* in this situation. She is already thinking about *us* and what next for us, as the Mother Church is called to do at every moment in human history.❤️)