At the Ascension Day worship service that I attended this year when the reader came to part in the ascension story from Acts, chapter one, “And a cloud took him out of their sight,” he stopped. He stopped so that one of the assisting ministers could step forward and extinguish the Christ candle, the candle symbolizing Christ’s visible presence on earth.
After the candle had been extinguished the reader continued: “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10-11)
The fact that a cloud could take Jesus out of the sight of his disciples teaches us two important things. First, it teaches us that God controls the clouds along with all other parts of this world. This was not a random cloud that took Jesus out of the disciples’ sight, it was a cloud sent by God to hide Jesus from their sight.
In the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee that threatened to sink the boat they were riding in, the disciples were astonished and filled with awe when Jesus revealed his divinity by speaking to the wind and the waves and they listened.
The Apostle Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ ascension in Ephesians, chapter one, explains the new status that Jesus enjoys because of his ascension: “God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20-23)
The phrase “and a cloud took him out of their sight,” also teaches us of how limited our human sight is. Which of us has not experienced a time when we failed to see something that was right in front of us? How easy it is for God to hide things from us when all it takes is a cloud to hide Jesus from our sight.
When the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples it was not a magic trick or Jesus entering into some invisible dimension of the universe. He still remained true God and true man so he was in fact still visible but just not visible to the disciples nor visible to any other believers since his ascension, except on rare occasions.
It is not just clouds that take Jesus out of our sight. It can be any trouble or setback that tempts us to wonder, “Where is Jesus?” Certainly the killing of all the children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas recently, made many of us wonder, “Has Jesus been snuffed out just like that candle was during the Ascension Day service? Where was he when the bullets were flying?”
Since Jesus ended his visible presence on earth on Ascension Day, it is most appropriate to ask, “Where now can we still see Jesus?” After all, before he ascended he told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) And in John 14:18 he promises, “I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you.”
He comes to us now in his holy word, the Bible, and in his blessed sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. As believers gather to use these means of grace, they are always accompanied by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the eternally invisible third person of the Holy Trinity.. The Holy Spirit’s job is always to remind us of Jesus and all that he did to secure our salvation by his death on the cross and triumphant resurrection from the dead.
We also see Jesus in all those that he sends to help in times of need. In Ephesians, chapter four, the Apostle Paul says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8). The gifts that Jesus bestows on us are to be employed to help and serve others in Jesus’ name. After the angel told the disciples that Jesus had gone into heaven they did not sit down and pout. They stopped staring up into the sky and went right to work to serve in his kingdom.
Because of what Jesus did for our redemption we take him at his word when he assures us that he is always with us, even in our darkest times, even when we can hardly see anything because our eyes are so blurred with tears. The eyes of Jesus’ disciples today are focused on seeing how we can serve others until he returns.