One of the hardest things for me to believe in the Bible is the story about Jesus ascending into heaven. I can grasp the birth, death and even the resurrection but the picture of Jesus being lifted to the clouds was a stumbling block. Until I read the story more carefully and I found the disciples at the heart of it. Wherever the disciples are, I am. What I stumble over they do too. Sometimes in that stumbling I get a wake up call.
The disciples asked Jesus; Give us a little more information. Is this when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Always the disciples are stuck in their time and their expectations. They expect Israel is going to come back into power. They don’t get that the kingdom of God is not limited to one nation, no matter how powerful. Like me trying to grasp what is clearly over my head, they want to know “Will it be today, tomorrow, next year? When?”
Talking was clearly not working so Jesus showed them a whole other zone of time and space by surrendering his place on the planet and giving in to being lifted up. He showed them what it means to have God call the shots.
Here is where the shocked friends helped me take a great leap of faith. They stood there, gawking, staring up to the skies.
If there was one of those little bubbles over their heads that tell you what people are thinking, I am sure that the words would be “This is absurd! People don’t fly. Birds do!”
If the first and most intimate friends of Jesus could be baffled by this absurd ascension I can be too. Absurd means wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate and that totally describes what happened. But absurd does not mean untrue – just unreasonable, illogical, and inappropriate.
What has even been appropriate about Jesus? Born in a stable to an unwed mother, teaching heretical things like “the first shall be last” then dying on a cross and resurrecting three days later – none of this is what anyone would call appropriate. All of it, from start to finish, if there is a finish, is the heart and soul of Jesus.
Off they went – walking back to Jerusalem to the room where they locked themselves in, men and women, for a 10 day prayer fest. We might call it a silent retreat. They did not say “Forget it, I quit.” They said “Lord, what now? You who prayed out loud for us so that we could feel how you and God and the Spirit are one with us…even when we are scratching our heads…now what?”
Nothing about Jesus is understandable. Knowing the One God Jesus Spirit means sitting and holding the space and waiting. Waiting on God – a good enough definition of worship – is what we are left with. And that my friends is how I have made my peace with the whole story. Eternal life with or without an ascension is not about death or rebirth or coming back home. It is knowing and being in love with God and each other. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen. Thanks be to God.