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Above and Below

Sunday’s Readings | 7 Easter, May 28

Acts 1:6-14Ps. 68:1-10, 33-361 Pet. 4:12-14; 5:6-11John 17:1-11

“As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Robed in celestial mist, he whose power is in the skies rides upon the clouds (Ps. 68:4, 35). Even now, looking upward, “all angels pray, every creature prays, flocks and wild animals pray, they bend the knee and go forth from their dens and caves and look up to heaven and breathe expectantly, vibrating the air in their own way. The rising birds are directed to heaven and stretch forth a cross of wings like hands and say something that seems like a prayer” (Tertullian, Tract on Prayer, Cap. 28-29). Nature is in travail too, but groans deeper than words make a perfect supplication (Rom. 8:26).

Look up. Lift up your hearts. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). The Greek and Latin best capture what it means to set your mind upon the heights: to feel, to think, to strive for, to sense, to taste. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

But have we noticed that “a cloud took him out of their sight,” and what are we to think of intruding angels: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:9-10)? Contemplation has a place, and its home proves to be both obscuring clouds and the mundane matter of human lives. With their minds set on daily things and the wonder of an unseen Messiah, “all these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Look down, do your work, and endure to the end. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus is in the world, and now prays for his own who are in the world (John 17:11). Indeed, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

Jesus goes up to the heavens. “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds — his name is the Lord” (Ps. 68:4). He is hidden and gone, and yet he is here. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

And you will tell and display a divine mystery in the untidy work of human compassion. You will show that God is the father of orphans, the protector of widows, a homebuilder for the desolate, prosperity to prisoners, rain from heaven, the restorer of what languished, a dwelling for flocks, a provider for the needy (Ps. 68:6-10). O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens, what tender care you show for this particle of creation.

I leave now to a home for the weak, ordered more or less, but still cluttered with wheelchairs, shower chairs, electric lifts, and adaptive implements for meals. The TV will be on, as always. It is good to be there, and look up.

Look It Up
Read Acts 1:9. He has gone.

Think About It
Power upon you.


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