Literally, none of these people know which way is up. They have at least momentarily lost the defining markers for spatial orientation: up and down. And in each case, such disorientation can have life and death consequences.
Figuratively, we say that someone doesn’t know which way is up when they seem confused, disoriented, or simply struggling with a task that exceeds their abilities. They have lost the principles that guide and anchor their lives.
|Hiro Yamagata's "Balloon Race"|
“Up,” in this case, does not refer to one’s spatial orientation. Instead, it refers to one’s sense of what’s real, what’s important, and where we’re heading in life. In other words, knowing what’s up means that we are spiritually grounded and oriented. Our spiritual orientation or lack thereof bears directly on the quality of this life and the life to come.
The Ascension teaches us that following the risen Christ involves a radical redefinition of “up." Luke and John offer us different perspectives on the Ascension. Luke gives a chronological, sequential account of events. John is more concerned with theology than chronology.
We can’t simply blend the two accounts, but neither do we have to keep them completely separate. By bringing the two Gospels into conversation with each other, the meaning of the event of the Ascension as well as its significance for us can emerge more clearly.
We’ll start with Luke.