The cross has both vertical and horizontal directions. You can think of them as representing the transcendent and the immanent dimensions of God’s presence, and Christ is where they cross. In these readings, listen for the words that go up to sky and the words that stay down on earth:

Psalm 68:4-10; Acts 1:6-14

What vertical and horizontal words did you hear? I heard vertical words like “the one who rides on the clouds,” God dwelling in the Temple, the earth shaking, the Father’s authority, and Jesus being taken up to heaven. Horizontally, I hear God caring for the orphans and the widows, providing for the poor, and the disciples being sent to the ends of the earth.

Worshiping here has taught me much about the horizontal dimension of the cross, about finding God in community and service. Some of us would even rather that I don’t talk so much about “God,” just encourage us to go be good. It’s not that I didn’t know God was in the horizontal dimension, it’s just that for me that dimension is always sustained by that vertical emphasis on “God,” so named. This story from Acts wants to pull us down to the horizontal dimension. Jesus keeps us down to earth, even as he himself ascends to heaven (whatever exactly that means).YMore correctly, I think this story means to disrupt our staring at what “used to be.” The message seems to be: don’t look at where God was, look at where God’s going to be. The disciples missed the point of the ascension. They seemed to think that Jesus was going “up” to bring heaven’s armies down and establish the Kingdom of God once and for all. Even after all this time, they missed the point of Jesus’ anointing, because they still hoped Christ would restore Israel as a political entity. That’s not what Christ is about here. (And I shouldn’t have to tell you that we mean something else by “soldiers of the cross” when we sing the hymn, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” in a few minutes. This is one of our “favorites” for reasons other than images of the Crusades.) The Ascension is not about victory and triumph as we might imagine. It’s about incarnate love taking its rightful place as the guiding rule of all creation.

I understand the disciples’ confusion. Jesus is going elsewhere, and it’s not clear what that means. We trust that God is still in control, but now what? It often feels like we’re living in Ascensiontide, between presences of Christ. He has ascended to heaven, but he has not yet quite returned. This is not a time for clear vision.

So far, we can live open to what God is doing next, whatever it will be. Perhaps we should not stare at what our church, our community, or our world looked like sometime before. Jesus who has been present in them will be present again. And we’ll know when it happens because God will be just as faithful next time. We’ll recognize what the Psalmist knew about God: God cares for those who can’t care for themselves, provides companionship for the lonely, offers freedom to captives of body and soul, and works for reconciliation between and within people.

For now, we might spend less time making God’s plans happen and more time discerning where we are called now. Who are we? What are our gifts and blessings? Who is the neighbor with whom we can share ourselves?

When it’s time to do that, we’ll know.