When he [Jesus] had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
- Luke 24:50-53, NIV
On my Presbyterian planning calendar, it noted that last Thursday (May 30) was the day to remember the "Ascension of the Lord." The Bible story above tells about that event. When we read this passage and think of Jesus going "up" as he ascended, this has caused problems for those who take it as a very literal direction or place Jesus went to. In April of 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth a few times. After he landed, he declared that he had disproved the existence of God. He said he had been up there and had seen no sign of God. According to one source, his actual words were, "I looked and I looked but I didn't see God."
Of course, when the world is round, where "up" is can be problematic - depending on your place on the globe. I think this is where language is inadequate to fully explain where Jesus "went." I believe Jesus went to be in the presence of God, which is "heaven" - where God's will is always being done. And as our Lord's Prayer reminds us -- God's will occurs when things are done "on earth as in heaven." The ascension was the end of the earthly, post-resurrection encounters with the risen Jesus. Jesus returns back to heaven - at least until his return at the Second Coming. The Holy Spirit, which is the spirit of the Risen Christ - was sent to fill us and empower us to do our part in God's mission here and now.
What I found most intriguing in the story from Luke's gospel is what the disciples did in response to this ascension -- they worshiped Jesus with great joy and continued that in the Temple in Jerusalem. Worship is the core of what we do. It also sustains us and propels us out into the world to do God's work - our mission! So, may God's Spirit fill you as you do your part of God's mission today!