Ascension Sunday: Ants in our pants over reopening?

Ascension Sunday First Reading: Acts 1.1-11.

Gospel: Luke 24.44-53


I vividly remember my parents teasing me about my youthful impatience. They would ask, “Do you have ants in your pants?”


It’s been a couple of months now for our stay-at-home orders. People are demonstrating on street corners and at state houses. Shop and restaurant owners are chomping at the bits. Politicians are turning the whole question of when and how to “reopen the economy” into a partisan blood sport. Is it time?


What else is new? Don’t we all have ants in our pants about something? About lots of things? Especially about getting out of the house and back to work?


The disciples certainly did. When Jesus appeared to them as a resurrected Lord they didn’t just stand in awe. They didn’t stand like sponges to absorb all the wisdom they could—or the love of God, for that matter. They asked, “Is it time?” They asked, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”


Jesus answered by saying, “You aren’t to know times and seasons.”


Truer words were never spoken. It is thought that the same author wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Yet Luke’s Gospel says Jesus ascended to heaven on day one—the day of Christ’s Resurrection. But then he went on to say, in Acts, that it was 40 days later.


Within a couple of decades after Luke and Acts were written, the Epistle of Barnabas, which Christians for a long time considered Scripture, agreed with the Gospel of Luke’s version, adding that the first Easter was really the “eighth day” of creation—the day for a whole new world.


The Apocryphon of James, maybe written fairly soon after Barnabas, has a nice round number of 550 days, because the Gnostics, whose ideas spawned that book, found significance in the thought of 18 months.


Then came the Ascension of Isaiah, which fixed the Ascension of Jesus as 545 days after the Resurrection. Not knowing much of times and seasons, scholars can’t decide when this book was written, guessing sometime between the 90s and the early third century.


It seems a very human thing, not to know times and seasons. And, by the way, those two words in Greek (kronos and kairos) cover both major dimensions of all time – time as just duration, and time as “the right time,” or the “critical moment.” We don’t have a clue as to sheer calendar time, or whether this is exactly the right time for anything.


And now, after Jesus gives us that bit of bad news—we just don’t know whether this is the time for the restoration of Israel, or for the reopening of the economy—the men in white give the great good news: “You can’t know the time (or the exact method) for restoration, but get the Spirit so that you will make it happen. Not just for Israel, but for the world.” And that’s what the rest of Acts is all about.


Is there a lesson in this for us? Is God teasing us about our “ants in the pants?” Is God saying to us that no President, no governor, no expert in infectious diseases will wave the green flag and tell us the right time. We will have to wait for the Spirit to give us insight into bringing it about. We will have to pray about it. We will have to follow the way of Jesus and see clearly all the people we will affect with our actions—from the cleaners to the health care workers to the factory and slaughter house workers to our parents and grandparents in the nursing homes. After we wait and pray and consider others, then we will be the ones to make the right moment happen.



About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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