While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.
No alternate-side-of-the-street parking restrictions today in New York: it is Ascension Day. Or, as the radio is more apt to say now, "a religious holiday," so as not to privilege any of us over any of the rest of us. This vagueness is a good early morning exercise, because alternate-side-of-the-street parking is suspended frequently in New York for "a religious holiday" -- almost once a week, it seems -- causing us to think hard while brushing our teeth, struggling to remember what day it is. Are we in Ramadan? Is this an obscure Jewish feast? Is alternate-side parking suspended for Hindu feasts now?
But this is one of ours. The feast of the simultaneous presence and absence of Christ. In the account in the book of Acts, the disciples gaze openmouthed into the sky and would have stood there like that all afternoon, had their attention not been directed back to earth by two well-dressed angels who happen to be nearby. You saw Jesus go, they say, and you will see Him come. You're staying here, for now.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia. This is the antiphon at Morning Prayer these days, and has been since Easter. You say it before the invitatory, and again after it. Here is a confession: in the last couple of weeks, I've grown tired of saying it every day. I want to move on into ordinary time, into those long green weeks of prayer and work and rest, stretching into the summer and into the fall, seeing the changes of the seasons. I've wanted to move on from Easter into the rest of life.
The risen Christ cannot remain with us and we can't remain at the empty tomb, on the way to Emmaus, in the upper room. We can't stay at the party forever, not here. We can't stand gazing into the sky, wondering where he went. Here there is work to be done and life to be lived, and it is all ordinary. In every Eucharist we bring the resurrection back to our experience, its shocking soak of joy -- no matter what time of year it is -- but in the rest of life we are on the road again, applying what we have learned and who we have become. Who we are becoming. Learning Christ, and teaching Him.
And receiving the Holy Spirit. As mysterious as Easter is, Pentecost will be more so. The spirit of God is present in us in exactly the same way as it was when Jesus walked the earth. How can that possibly be? Where is the evidence of it?
This funny feast prepares us to begin our answer. No need to rush toward false certainties about him -- you've got the rest of your life. Up he goes -- some ancient pictures show just his feet, disappearing into a cloud, and others show his footprints, with no one in them, the disciples gaping at the sight. Where did he go? Where is he? Here. And not here. Now, and not yet.