A reflection on the Ascension, by the Rev. Karla Jean Miller
Jesus defies gravity.
A cloud forms around him, and he simply floats away into the sky. “It is no illusion”, one sample children’s sermon claims.
I wonder why we tell our children these stories this way? Jesus floats away, and it REALLY happened? (No joke, I read this children’s sermon on a certain popular lectionary resource site.) Wouldn’t it be better, just to tell the story, and then wonder with the children, aka Godly Play style?
I wonder how Jesus did that?
I wonder what the sky looked like?
I wonder what his disciples were feeling and thinking? Were they sad? Afraid?
I wonder how long they really stood there, looking up in the sky?
I wonder what they said when the two men in white robes came and questioned them?
I wonder, who those men were?
I imagine that if we asked children some of the questions above, we would get incredibly rich and imaginative responses. Which is o.k.--thinking magically is a part of cognitive development--and such a better way to present this really unbelievable moment in Acts. Allowing children to creatively wonder is much more respectful to this text than it is to explain it as “no illusion, it really
However, for adults, or at least for THIS adult, the idea of the ascension is pretty unaccessible. I do think that Jesus had to leave the disciples, so they could be empowered to be who they were called to be. If Jesus had stayed, well, then, there was really no point, I think for the resurrection. Jesus came, to give life. And the disciples needed to claim that new life--and to continue hangin’ with the Rabbi, well, it just wasn’t the best course of action. They had graduated. Time to move on.
But did Jesus HAVE to float away on a cloud? (I sort of like the thought that he went to India to dish with the Buddha. Oh, maybe that timing is wrong--well, perhaps
in the kairos sense of time that idea would work.) When I visually think of this, I imagine Jesus floating like an escaped helium balloon, going up, up and away, getting smaller and smaller so that soon he becomes a dot in the sky and then altogether disappears. By defying gravity ala the musical Wicked, Jesus disappears.
And I suppose, this is part of the point of the ascension. By Jesus disappearing, the mission to “go ye therefore” can begin. The disciples (including all of the certain women) have to find the little piece of Christ in themselves and continue to share the gospel of light and love to those who desperately need it. Jesus disappears, so that the Christ can appear in a multiplicity of ways to usher in the kin-dom of God’s community.
So, Jesus disappears. Maybe Luke wasn’t really sure HOW Jesus disappeared. Maybe he did sneak on a camel caravan and go hang out in Ethiopia or something. But Luke has to do Jesus right--he is the Lord, after all. So, what a beautiful picture he paints, with Jesus surrounded by his friends, a beautiful dusky evening, perhaps, the sky streaking peachy and columbine blue and lilac. A cloud slowly forming around him, and....well, you know the rest.
Pastor Barbara Lundblad describes in her sermon a woodcut of the Ascension she saw once. The most striking part of the woodcut was not the ascension, but what was on the ground. The artist had rendered footprints where Jesus had been standing. Don’t you love that?
You know, I think that the story of the ascension is really a wonderful way to describe Jesus leaving the disciples. I think Luke must have asked a billion of “wondering” questions before he penned these chapters of Acts.
So, I wonder,
What do you think?