Feast of the Ascension
Thursday, May 25, 2017
First of all, no, this is not a sermon. It’s just some reflections on Jesus’ Ascension. So here it goes:
I remember seeing this picture (or a similar one) on the cover of a church bulletin once and got a kick out of the footprints Jesus was leaving behind. Actually, at first glance of the printing, it looked almost like Jesus was getting pulled right out of his sandals. Honestly, it looks a little silly with his feet dangling there, but it’s still pretty much like most depictions of the event.
I’m also reminded of a talk I attended by John Shelby Spong (don’t judge). At one point he said that Carl Sagan had once told him that even if Jesus had risen vertically from the earth at the speed of light, he’d still be within the Milky Way galaxy. Therefore, absurd! Well, I suppose the response would be “Duh!” The idea of Jesus zooming off into the sky is pretty silly and simplistic, and the attempts to “refute” it are actually more like a straw man argument.
Yes, we know that the earth is an atmosphere-enveloped sphere located within the vastness of space. Heaven isn’t some place above the clouds. It can be easy to just excuse it as simple people of the past not really knowing what things were really like and just making up a story. Mind you, a lot of people at the time and for quite a while after probably did hold to a cosmology placing Heaven above the dome of the sky. However, explaining it away in that manner and reducing it just to some sort of demythologized metaphor or such is also pretty simplistic and not quite fair to early Christians and all those since who have believed in Jesus’ Ascension.
Both of those responses, in my opinion, miss the point. Do I believe that 40 days after the Resurrection Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father? I am willing to say “Yes” to it. A literal rising into the sky and sitting next to an old guy on a fancy chair? No. (And imagine me looking over my glasses like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.)
So is “ascension” metaphorical? Yes, in the sense that human language is limited, especially when trying to make sense of God’s mysteries. However, it still represents an actual reality. And that reality is an essential aspect of the larger saving mystery of Christ from the Incarnation to his teaching and healing ministry and to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, as well as the Sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Jesus is fully human, with a flesh-and-blood body; and that body was not discarded when he rose from the dead. Neither is it discarded when returned to Heaven to take his place once again with the Father. Rather, Jesus brought not just his humanity to the divine life but ours as well. We who are baptized into His Body will one day share in that divine life at the end of the age when all things are made right in relation to God. When or how will that happen? I don’t know. It’s above my pay grade. I’m leaving it to God. For now, we exist in the tension of the absence of Jesus physically here on earth and his continuing presence with us through the Spirit.
I do have a lot more to say, but the post is getting a little long; so I will leave the rest till