Every ascension day, I remind people that there is neither up nor down in a round universe. Jesus also said there was neither first nor last in the domain of God. These are round images, spiral images that are not bound by beginnings and endings.
Part of the good news is teaching us not to let ourselves be caught in absolutes or dualities. In the good news there is only becoming and being born into new understandings of complexity, of paradox. A lot of folks find this uncomfortable and would prefer just single answers to tough questions, but if you notice, Jesus never gives straight answers because he understands the purpose of the question. The question leads to deeper awareness, deeper sense of the mystery of life, deeper awe and humility that we are even invited to reflect upon the vast nature and being of the Holy.
The path from Easter to Pentecost is, in one way, the story of the disciples of Jesus moving from literalism to the freedom of metaphor and image. To experience the divine is usually to be struck with wonder. There is no language but awe for an encounter with the divine. Nonetheless, being creatures of language, we must use imagery to express these moments.
The various Easter stories tell of a variety of ways people come to understand the continuing presence of Jesus in their lives. The story of the ascension of Jesus marks a shift in consciousness. After anyone we love dies, we often attach ourselves to the things that remind us of them. In my case: my father’s hat, my mother’s kitchen tools and recipe book. In the process of grieving, we gradually release our physical connection to them. This is an essential stage because then we can let them live within our hearts and memory. Unless we break the physical connection and open ourselves to an eternal connection that is love and spirit, we cannot move on with the new learning that will present itself to us.
I think the story of the ascension is about this phenomenon of letting go of Jesus the man. In the church’s liturgy, the next event is Pentecost in which all is spirit and innovation, energy and communication, wind and flame, inspiration and possibility. Jesus becomes the parable for how God can inhabit human life when we open ourselves to the Divine Presence.
Why indeed are we staring into a past event rather than preparing ourselves for the big event for which Jesus has tried to prepare us: the passion of God sweeping through the world making all things new. And more amazing, we are the agents of this incredible ongoing event.
I want to end with excerpts from the 9th Ode of Solomon:
You exist, always beckoning to your servants
You renew me, by holding me in your light
I am like land deep and happy in its orchards.
You O holy One are sunshine on the face of the land.
You take me to Paradise where I know joy
Blessed are the bearers of your living water
Praise be to you, the eternal delight of Paradise. Hallelujah