“So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.” Mark 16:19-20 NRSV
Well, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus is coming up, folks. Observance start tomorrow and in some places happens all day on Sunday.
It’s got me thinking.
To be completely honest, Jesus’ Ascension has always stirred up feelings of abandonment in me. Why did he have to go? What did it feel like to stand there on that mountain and watch your friend and savior disappear before your eyes, especially after the ultimate miracle of his resurrection? And why did he have to go so far away, all the way up to the “the right hand of God?”
The whole thing reminds me of that moment right after the goodbye while your love’s car rounds the corner out of sight.
And it doesn’t feel good. There’s an ache to it. It’s fine in the long run, really. Life goes on and there is work to be done. But, still. It hurts me to think of it--maybe especially because the separation my spouse and I had to endure so that I could finish seminary is still very fresh in my body.
I am bringing this to Christ’s Ascension; it’s all tied up.
The scripture today (find the whole list of daily lectionary readings here), however, upsets my despair. It disturbs this notion of an abandoning, far-away Jesus.
“And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.”
Jesus continues to work with us in the practice of good news. So how could he be very far away at all?
All of a sudden this scripture renews in me a sense of Reality. It calls me to remember that heaven and earth are not separate worlds, but, perhaps, only different planes that are getting stitched together.
N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham, believes that “heaven is not that far away,” but that it is rather all around us; because of the Incarnation, earth is inside heaven—aka, God’s Reality—and that earth is being transformed by this great cosmic-divine embrace.
Wright preaches here:
"we have been used to seeing ‘heaven’ as a place separated from earth, somewhere far away, way beyond the blue. But that’s not how the Bible sees it, not at all. Heaven is God’s space, and earth is our space. ‘The heavens belong to YHWH,’ declares the Psalmist, ‘and the earth he has given to the human race.’ But the point of God’s split-level good creation, heaven and earth, is not that earth is a kind of training ground for heaven, but that heaven and earth are designed to overlap and interlock (which is, by the way, the foundation of all sacramental theology, with the sacraments as one of the places where this overlap actually happens), and that one day – as the book of Revelation makes very clear – one day they will do so fully and for ever, as the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning says it in a different way:
“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Heaven is not that far away, and Jesus continues to work with us in the healing of this world.
But, my curious heart asks, why the show? Why ascend?
Who would believe it otherwise? Who could believe that bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh went anywhere but a grave?
In this ascension act Jesus was not going away, but rather going before us—just as he said. Showing us what is possible when God throws in God’s lot with our earthen matter: it gets brought home.
And sometimes we even feel the presence of our Brother in our work of making heaven on earth. We know him in those we serve.
Jesus Ascended, but he did not leave us.
Maybe it is okay to feel a little sad at Christ’s going, like when a friend has to drive away back to their place or your lover has to go for a while. But we know because of this mysterious and continual elbow-to-elbow work with Jesus that we will one day see him again just as he is. And that somehow we will be like him—made new, whole, and completely at home.
We raise our hands and hearts to you, O Ascended One. We pray your reign upon the earth, we pray heaven home to this place--in us, through us, and with us.
We bless you for your comradery and direction, O Brother.
Jesus, we love you.
Ideas for Celebrating the Ascension:
Walk with your comrades.
Like Jesus did in those easter days between Resurrection and Ascension, spend some time withyour most fiery friends amidst the flaming bush.
See if you might sneak away together to talk about long-term, earth-healing schemes while you enjoy bursts of heaven all around.
I’m having lunch with a wise woman, learning to knit, and then visiting the Dallas Arboretum with my man, the most ready reformer I know.
Take off your shoes.
Walk slowly on this earth, letting your feet connect and explore the blessed dust and its liveliness. Feel where you are, where you are called to be in this moment. Do you feel your roots? Can you imagine how they are tied to God’s Reality?
Do something with lift!
Fly a kite, watch Chicken Run ("We need m're thrrrrust!")/do some bird-watching, pick up a neighbor’s groceries, send a note to someone you miss, bake a cake, hang the laundry outside—you get the idea. Find something that lifts your eyes and helps you live into the reign of Love!
I suggest making a lilac (evidently the flower of Ascension) flower crown and wearing it all day. You know, if you can, why not?
Best wishes to you as you draw near to the ascended Christ this week, beloveds.
Be not far from one another, and see him.
Thanks for being here,