Bereft, the disciples stare at the empty sky. The Master has disappeared, this time for good. He turned their worlds upside down, set their hearts afire, opened their minds to new understandings and their imaginations to new dreams. And now he is gone. They crane their necks, trying to catch one final glimpse of him, but the sky is innocent of all miraculous goings on. They are on their own.
Two strangers in white have joined them as they stand there staring. “Why are you looking up toward heaven?” the strangers ask. The implication is that there is somewhere better they ought to be focusing their attention. (They could, for instance, contemplate the strangers themselves. Where did these people come from?)
In a sense this is the time when the disciples truly become followers of the Way of Jesus. Before they were just tagging along for the ride. They were spectators in Jesus’ drama, witnesses instead of participants. Now they bring their gaze down, out of the heavens, to the things right in front of them. They have to decide what to do with the rest of the day, and the rest of their lives.
It is time for them to begin to take in what they have been taught. Alone and together, they will start to make it their own, to process it. They will speak a lot of sentences that begin, “Remember when he . . . .” They will take the full, glorious, immediate presence of God incarnate and make it into a story. Some things will be forgotten. Some will be given a twist Jesus himself never intended. But the story will be alive as only each of them can make it. The story will become their very own.
This is sad, of course. Jesus is gone, and he will never again walk the earth and embody Holiness as he did. His followers will have mourned him deeply, longing not only for his inspiration but for his smile and the particular timbre of his voice.
But on the other hand the story really begins right here. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it never grows into a full fledged plant. Unless the Master is no longer around, the wisdom given the followers never takes root, branches out and bears fruit. Each of the disciples has to make what Jesus gave them his or her very own, embody it according to the dictates of his or her particular nature, proclaim the good news in a new way uniquely theirs.
The living faith we have today is the result of this process, a continual re-embodiment transmitted down through the ages from willing soul to willing soul until it touches you and me. Each new incarnation is a sort of resurrection. Jesus lives on and on as his followers find their Christ-like centers and manifest them. The Gospel is a living thing.
At some point it will be time for each of us to take flight from our earthly form, leaving behind those who have loved us and received the wisdom that is uniquely our own. How will the seed that is Christ die once again when we go? How will it grow and blossom in the hearts of those we have influenced and left behind?
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado