The Wizard of Oz, this great old movie came out in 1939. And ever since, it has become many people’s all-time favorite until now. The movie begins with Dorothytrying to get her aunt and uncle, and other farmhands to share her story about an incident related to her dog, Toto. But all of them are too busy to listen to her, so her aunt says, “Find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” So Dorothy walks off by herself, musing to Toto, “Some place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain...” Right there, watching the sky, she begins singing the greatest song of all time, “Somewhere over the rainbow way up high…” And the song describes the place where “skies are blue,” where “dreams really do come true,” and where “troubles melt like lemon drops.” This song, just like the movie, is just unforgettable not just for its beautiful melody but also for its message that deeply evokes human emotion of longing and dreaming for a perfect place beyond our troublesome ordinary life. No wonder, this song is ranked number one on the “Songs of the Century” list.
It’s true that sometimes we wish to go somewhere beyond here… somewhere beyond our hectic life full of duties and burdens, and somewhere always joyous and worry-free. We Christians know that there certainly is such a place promised to the people of faith. We may call it the heaven or the coming Kingdom of God where we can live in perfect peace and eternal rest, where we have boundless joy and no mundane struggles. Yes, that would be the place that Christians would imagine while singing, “Over the rainbow.”
Today we are celebrating the ascension of Jesus Christ. We read the Scriptures testifying that a cloud takes him out of the disciples’ sight. And the Apostles’ Creed affirms that Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God until he will come again to judge the living and the dead. What does it mean to us that Jesus ascended to heaven? Does it mean that we only imagine and yearn for the perfect place in heaven to where the resurrected Jesus is lifted up? That we only dream of the new kingdom to come with Jesus some day? I don’t think that’s everything about this Ascension Sunday. Rather, the Lord’s Ascension reminds us of the task we are responsible for, the task that Jesus leaves to us so we must earnestly take while we await Jesus’ coming again. Yes, we are here not just waiting for somewhere like Oz, over the rainbow. So today, we better listen to two voices in the Scriptures guiding us during this in-between time.
The First voice we better listen to is the voice of two mysterious persons in white robes standing by the disciples at Jesus’ ascension. Watching their resurrected Lord and Savior take off heavenward, the disciples are confused. They want to know where Jesus is going and when he would come back and restore the kingdom to Israel. But Jesus says, “It is not for you to know, but wait until you receive the Holy Spirit.” And then he is gone. The disciples are standing there looking up, staring at the sky, wishing to see some sign, or to hear some more words of assurance, or to find at least a glimpse of the kingdom of God in heaven. Instead, the disciples heard an awakening voice from two persons in white robes, “Men 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” (Acts 1:11). I think what they were saying was: “Don’t just be the spectators, but be the disciples to follow Jesus and prepare the way of coming Christ. Don’t just look up, but look around and do your work of faith as Jesus taught you.”
The second voice we must listen to is the voice of Jesus. As you may know, it is widely accepted that the same author wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts. So they are two volumes in one series. The readings for today show us that Luke concludes Jesus’ story at the end of his Gospel and starts a new story about early Christians’ lives that we see in Acts. Between these two stories, Jesus’ ascension is like a bridge. Luke writes the same narrative in both books, because it’s important and because at the moment of ascension, Jesus leaves us his very final commandments. What are the commandments? Let us read them together. “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48-49). “But 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). Here, if we put together the common thread in those two versions of Jesus’s final words, it’d be like this, “Be my witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Be my witnesses—don’t just passively wait and long for somewhere to come, but bear witness to what you already saw and what you have come to believe.Jesus is asking, be my witness and tell others, “the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48). So go and be my witnesses till the ends of the earth.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this Ascension of the Lord Sunday, we have to listen to these voices, the voices that call us into our Christian vocation: to be his witness and to bring heavenly joy and peace here and now. If heaven is the place where we dwell with Jesus, and if the kingdom of heaven is where Jesus reigns, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring that heavenly place on earth from within our gathering. So stop looking up somewhere above the chimney tops and somewhere over the rainbow. Jesus is right here with us in his Spirit always and we are here to follow him. Until Jesus comes in his glory to judge the living and the dead, and we shall be lifted up to somewhere beyond…until then, let us earnestly work to make God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In the power of the Holy Spirit, be my witness in all you do, and do it all to the glory of God…Jesus commands us today.