Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ascension of Our Lord

 The Ascension of Christ
Garofalo 1510-20

I used to have a really hard time getting into the Ascension.  It was just awkward like most of the art depicting this event.  It was like Nadia Bolz-Weber of Sarcastic Lutheran says "And Jesus just sort of floated away...kind of like Mary Poppins"

And if it wasn't weird, it was just sad.  You know, snuffing out the Paschal Candle.  Jesus is gone.  Buh bye! 

And then I read N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church and his chapter on the Ascension and I changed my whole thinking about it.  Basically the problem is when we think of Heaven as a physical place, rather than another dimension..or the realm of God.  

Basically heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter.  They are two different dimensions of God's good creation.  And the point about heaven is twofold.   First, heaven relates to earth tangentially so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth:  the ascension therefore means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.  Second, heaven is, as it were, the control room for earth; it is the CEO's office, the place from which instructions are given.  "All authority is given to me," said Jesus at the end of Matthew's gospel, "in heaven and on earth."  ( p. 111).

When he ascended, Jesus joined God and he is with God, and so in fact, his Ascension brings him closer to us than when when he was on earth and bound by space and time. When Jesus took his place  at the right hand side of God, he was no longer bound by space and  time and so now is accessible to all of us, not just his first century
disciples.  This is what Jesus meant when he said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.  (John 14:27-28)

I tried to refer to this idea when I was challenging Marcus Borg and his  assertion that thinking about heaven is a waste of time and his reply was that he loves Wright but he makes absolutely no sense in this regard.  I suppose if you are such materialist that talking about anything outside of space and time is nonsensical this is not a helpful image.  And there can be problems with the idea of Heaven being a "control room" for earth.  If God and Jesus (and I suppose the Spirit if we are going to be orthodox Trinitarians) are really at the controls for earth I would suggest they are pushing the wrong buttons! 

I think it will take forever to sort out how God works in this world and the questions of theodicy that come with it...but for those unwilling to join Marcus Borg in throwing out Heaven with the bathwater, N.T. Wright is a good place to start.


  1. This is good; it really rings true with what I have been thinking this week... I will need to get the Wright book.

  2. Very very helpful post, Joelle. I'm very comfortable with being and doing outside of time and space, still I hadn't ever thought of the Ascension this way. Appreciate this new way of thinking about what I usually refer to as the Feast of Jesus Goes Up.

  3. I think Wright makes a lot of sense in this regard.

    I think that tells us something about Borg as well.

    I think I already kind of believed this, but it's so helpful having these words.

  4. Seeing this a bit late (like 7 years), but very much appreciate your thoughts here, Joelle, as I muse upon my sermon for this coming Thursday evening.