I’ve missed a few days of my blog this week, but ever since Thursday I’ve been thinking again about an important but often overlooked day in the Church calendar and in any Christian’s life: the Ascension.
Celebrating Christ’s Ascension is the perfect church holiday because the world can't steal it. In various ways, Christmas and Easter have been co-opted by our consumerist culture: there is far more emphasis on the trappings of the holidays than that which the holidays actually celebrate.
In her teen years, author Marva Dawn played clarinet in the high school band for the town Christmas parade. The crowning event of the celebration was when Santa Claus was flown in by helicopter. Later, her hometown started doing the same thing for the Easter Bunny. Apparently, this town in Canada was good at flying people in; but – Dawn observes - the world hasn't got the foggiest notion what to do with someone flying out.
After Jesus’ resurrection, the Lord appeared to his followers many times, but then it came time for a new, better chapter in the story. Acts 1:6-11:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
What do we have to compare with this?
It helps to knows some cosmology of the time: The word “heaven(s)” means sky(ies). In the first century, God/heaven was up; earth was down. Not spatially; this is pictorial language. Heaven is not above the stratosphere. This is not a question of the location of heaven, as if to get there it’s the second star to the right and then straight on till morning.
Neither is this a matter of Jesus’ absence, but of his increased PRESENCE.
The Ascension is crucially important for our life. We often, especially in hard times, wonder where God is in our life or in the world. We tend to see Jesus as gone, departed, absent. But the news Luke tells us is not that he has gone, but that he has ASCENDED, and there is a world of difference.
Have you ever been to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC? You have to walk up an impressive set of steps in order to reach Abraham Lincoln, enthroned for all posterity. It’s a very ancient image. In the ancient world, kings weren’t fully in their power until they were properly enthroned. That’s the message about Jesus.
A friend texted me this week with a meme about Jesus' Ascension that took on a wry new angle in the days of social distancing: To those who wonder what the Ascension is about: It's the day when Jesus started to work from home.
And that’s great, timely news for us: There is nowhere, no matter, where you are apart from his Lordship. The Ascension is a call, every day in every circumstance, to acknowledge and trust. In other words, heaven is not a WHERE, but a WHO. It is Jesus who is no longer bound by time and space, but is available to all – ruling, watching, listening, caring, providing for you and me anywhere and everywhere.
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. Check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.