May 25, 2017
Upward – inward – outward. I find this to be the movement of the day and what we are celebrating on this fortieth day of Easter, using St. Luke’s numeration. The Ascension is how we mark Jesus taking leave of his earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church’s witness to be his ongoing presence in mission to bring God’s transforming love to all people.
In order for Luke to tell the story of Jesus’ transition, he does so as only someone of his day could. He uses an ancient cosmology which assumes that heaven, the dwelling place of God, is up; humanity and the rest of creation resides somewhere in the middle; and the netherworld, of whatever description, is down. Given that, what I believe we are not saying is that Jesus ended his earthly ministry with a rocket launch. Artwork depicting a cloud above with Jesus’ feet sticking out toward earth is not helpful. To use Star Trek lingo, this is not a “beam me up” occurrence.
What the day does suggest, however, is a change of location, a transition that involves loss as well as a moment of glory. I like the language in the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel that says Jesus “withdrew from them.” He is completing his Exodus. In the resurrection we see God’s defeat of death and everything that would tear us away from God’s love and one another. In the Ascension, Christ is exalted, placed at the helm if you will, of the cosmos. Church language for this is “Lord over all.”
This day reminds us in beautiful imagery that what happens to Jesus – death, resurrection, raised in exaltation to glory – happens to us all. Our lives are caught up in something far more grand than we can imagine. After all, we do know that every living thing contains within its molecules actual stardust of the universe from the beginning of time. It takes over the top images and language to convey the wonder to which The Ascension is pointing.
The call is to stop gazing upward in a passive waiting for Jesus to come and fix things. Yes we are the vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, yet vindicated and celebrating people of God. We are also now the witnesses, making a movement inward to grasp and see our own responsibility, in confirmation language, as the strengthened, empowered and sustained people of God. We then are able to move outward as a courageous people to be co-creators with God in the adventure of life and wherever it takes us. We are now ready to travel the highways of the world with good news.