The church nerds out there (I say that affectionately) will know that a couple of days ago we celebrated Ascension Day: when Jesus was lifted into the clouds at the conclusion of the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 24:50-53). Fanciful imagery aside, this story always makes me wonder: what next? Jesus was gloriously lifted into heaven, but then what?
I find myself asking this question quite often. As my year abroad at Oxford University comes to an end I wonder, “then what?” What will my summer look like; what will I do; how will this impact my future goals? I’ve realized that the idea of “summer,” as a period of continued rest and delightful laziness by the lake, is a memory which I will probably never relive again. I have to make my summer plans keeping in mind the question: then what? What must I do after the summer ends? Well, I have to finish my last year of my undergraduate degree. Then what? Hopefully I’ll be accepted to a seminary. Then what–then what–then what? I can’t help myself from constantly asking these questions, and the thought of the future is often overwhelming.
I’m reminded of a verse from Ecclesiastes: “There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens.” (Ecc. 3:1)
There is a time for peace, rest–even laziness–and there is a time for action. There is a time to learn and a time to teach; a time to understand and a time correct; a time to listen and a time to be heard. Our world–our neighbors–suffer. Malnutrition, sexual slavery, economic/social oppression and exploitation, racial biases and hate crimes, gender biases and hate crimes, biases and hate crimes against certain sexual orientations–these acts of injustice all plague our world and harm God’s beloved creation.
Like the early disciples, there was a time to learn from our teachers and to hear all sides. There was a time to sit by the waters as Jesus calmed them, or beside the lake of my childhood without worry. Now, the time has come to speak–to be bold in the face of injustice–to continue the religious revolution which is brewing around the world; to be the transformation God desires.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven he said to his disciples, “I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised” (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit dwelt within the early disciples and it dwells within us today. One of the most relevant morals of this story is that we are ALL worthy of the Divine. This story reminds us that humanity is not beyond a cure; that we are not inherently destined for destruction; that with the power of God we can make a difference! God believes in our ability to choose love so much so that God remains present and active among us through the Holy Spirit.
Gustavo Gutierrez, a leading theological figure in Latin America during the 1960s, and still today, wrote in his book, A Theology of Liberation, that sin is the refusal to love God and to love one’s neighbor. Sin, continues Gutierrez, reminds us that, “things do not happen by chance and that behind an unjust structure there is a personal or collective will responsible—a willingness to reject God and neighbor” (Gutierrez, 2001). If we seek to be as “good” as God created us to be, then we must oppose sin–we must oppose structures which do harm to certain peoples, classes, genders, sexual orientations, races, religions, or nations. If we claim the title of “Christian” we must ask ourselves, “then what?” What does a Christian life look like?
The Ascension and Pentecost events promise us that even though Jesus is physically absent, God remains with us and God empowers us to be good; to chose love; to break down barriers and biases; to deconstruct systems of oppression and exploitation–and the Church is not exempt from this critical reflection. God is with us. Now, we must be on the side of justice.