Benediction Online

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Jesus Ascended - So What?

Acts 1:6-14

This morning we are remembering Jesus’ Ascension. This event, when Jesus levitated and disappeared into a cloud, is described at the end of Luke’s gospel and again at the beginning of Acts, the passage we heard this morning. Both books were written by the same person but he starts Acts as a separate scroll or volume – it’s not like he just ran out of room on one scroll and had to start a new one – because Acts starts with a preamble explaining its purpose. Neither Matthew nor John’s gospels mention what happened to Jesus. Mark just says, “Jesus was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.”

So two of the gospel writes don’t mention it, one mentions it in passing, but Luke mentions it twice – once at the end of his account of Jesus’ ministry and then again at the beginning of his account of the early church’s ministry. Obviously Luke thought it was important, not just as the end of Jesus’ story, but also as the very beginning of the church’s story.

How important do you think it is?

Do you think the Ascension

(a) is a made-up story

(b) really happened

(c) is a myth intended to reveal some deeper truth

(d) something else altogether

If it did happen on some level what difference does it make to you?

Whereas Matthew and Mark both end with Jesus telling his disciples to go and preach the gospel to all people and all creation, Luke is setting things up for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This is a theme in John as well – last week we heard Jesus saying that he would not leave the disciples as orphans but would ask God to send them an Advocate.

There is a connection in Luke and John’s minds about Jesus’ being lifted up, glorified, ascended, and the Holy Spirit coming powerfully upon the disciples. The Holy Spirit has been around for ever - this is not a new manifestation of God, but it is a new experience of the relationship between God and humanity. We tend to take for granted the idea that God is within us, but for the disciples and for humanity this was a radically new idea.

It was one of those shifts that completely changes the way you see things. No longer was God solely an external Being like other humans, but God was to become internal, as close as their own spirits. As we shall see next week, this experience of God was not the still, quiet voice which we often seek in prayer and contemplation, this experience of the Spirit was wild and expansive and led to the disciples being able to perform miracles, speak in other languages, discern spirits, preach powerfully – all the things that Jesus had done.

So why the ascension? If Jesus just disappeared what would he have done with his body?

In Jerusalem, the Chapel of the Ascension is a Christian and Muslim holy site believed to mark the place where Jesus ascended into heaven. In the small round church/mosque is a stone. On this stone is an indentation which is claimed to have been made by Jesus’ feet as he ascended. I know that stretches the imagination a little, but it emphasizes the physical nature of Jesus’ ascended body. One of the characteristics of being human is that we have bodies, and it is through our bodies that we negotiate our way through our physical world. Certainly our bodies are not all that we are, but the interaction of body and spirit is what makes us the people we become. That’s why our sacraments all have a physical element – because God touches us not just through our minds but through our bodies.

So Jesus’ body is an important aspect of his humanness. If he had returned to God as a disembodied spirit he would no longer be fully human. The fact that he ascended as a fully-embodied human means that humanity is now part of the Godhead.

The difficulty with bodies is that they have to be somewhere, so when we talk like this it sounds like there is a place where God is and now there’s embodied Jesus with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit. I expect that’s the way that the early church thought of it, which is why Mark talks about Jesus being on the right hand of God. We think of God as being outside the space/time continuum so she is nowhere and everywhere because there really is no there there. Jesus ascended in his resurrection body which we know was different from ours because he could move through time and space, suddenly appearing here or there. So we don’t have to stretch our incredulity to think that Jesus is now sitting on a cloud somewhere.

Jesus ascended because the dominant paradigm of the day suggested that God lived in the heavens. The god-man left the limiting dimensions of time and space in a way that enabled his followers to know that humanity was now fully with God, that just as in the incarnation God became fully human, so in the ascension human becomes fully God.

This new relationship goes both ways. After a suitable period to integrate what just happened, a time when the disciples devoted themselves to prayer and praise – almost a spiritual retreat to prepare themselves for a new initiation – after a suitable period, God enters humanity in a brand new way.

But that’s a story for another time…

What difference does it make to you?


Post a Comment

<< Home