May 5, 2016

Ascension Day

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Several years ago, my wife and I went to see the last installment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, entitled “The Dark Knight Rises.” An embarrassing detail to this story is that I actually fell asleep during most of the movie, in spite of the high volume action scenes. My slumber during the film was interrupted, during a scene in which I remember Batman was at the bottom of a well-like prison that was seemingly impossible to escape from.

I learned after the movie that Batman was down there for a period of months, until the other prisoners in the deep well empower him to climb out of the pit in which he was imprisoned. Now I have only seen this movie once, actually I’ve only seen part of the movie once, but nevertheless, the scene of Batman’s ascent out of the prison was powerful for me. He tries many times to climb out of the prison, but fails.

Only with the clamoring of the other prisoners whose repetitive mantra of “Rise! Rise” is Batman able to climb out of the pit and go on to do whatever he was supposed to do, which I can’t tell you what it was, because I fell asleep again after that point.

I have been thinking of that scene a lot this week as we prepare for this day, the fortieth day of Easter, Ascension Day. Today we mark the ascent, or rising, of Jesus to Heaven, an event depicted on the cover of your order of service by the African artist Jesus Mafu. Like the ascent of Batman, the Ascension of Jesus was not easy. First Jesus was crucified, and then he died.  His corpse lay cold for three days, until the angels spoke to him saying “Rise!” and Jesus climbed out of the pit of death, risen.

Days later, Jesus ascended to heaven. The term “ascent” is somewhat archaic word for us.  Centuries ago people believed heaven was literally up in the clouds somewhere. Today, those who believe in heaven would likely say that heaven is all around us, it is present in us, it is also beyond time, rather than just up “there” somewhere. Yet language is limited, and sometimes we just have to say in words what sometimes is better stated in art.

The point of the Ascension of Jesus is that it is not an event that is reserved for him alone. The Ascension is something all of us will do. For some of us, it is something we have already done.  The Bible speaks of Jesus coming to earth in order to show us what it means to be divine.

In other words, we ascend, with Jesus, to heaven and we are drawn into the heart of God – we become a part of God, and God a part of us in a way that is distinctive from our reality now.

That’s a complicated way of describing the Ascension as it applies to us. It is less an “ascent” and more of an encapsulation, God and you, joining together, with no separation. Heaven is the universe as God intends it to be, and our Ascension, that is our entry in this new reality.

John, writing the book of Revelation on the Greek island of Patmos, describes heaven as a city in which there is no temple, there is no church, because there isn’t need for one. God and all of creation are ascended together, and there is no need for an intermediary, there is no need for a church or clergy, for God and creation are united as one. On Sundays in heaven you don’t need to go to church, you get to go out and have brunch, or sleep in, or binge watch a show on whatever heavenly video streaming service it there. The point is – in heaven, the church is out of a job!

If we are carefully observant in our lives, we are often afforded glimpses of Ascension. In a few moments, all of us will physically ascend these stairs to receive the Eucharist, that sacred meal which is a preview of the bountiful life that is to come. As we rise up these steps, we are to be reminded that we are stepping up to a higher place, a divine place, where we physically and spiritually commune with God – where God feeds us.

But it is not our time to yet to remain there.  We will walk down steps again, we will descend, we will get in our cars and drive home and we will still have all the regular problems of our lives. But we would be mistaken to assume that in spite of that, heaven is no longer our reality.  If Jesus taught us anything, it is that heaven is everywhere. Heaven is where we ascend , but we can also find it at the bottom of the pit. I can tell you that for me personally when I have gone through times of personal, emotional, and spiritual anguish, as painful and as unpleasant as those time have been, I have also ascended out of every one of those experiences holding on to a piece of heaven I don’t believe I would have received otherwise.  

Some of us might feel as if we are at the bottom of a pit with no way out. There is a way out.  There is always a way out.  We rise.  We ascend triumphantly taking the hand of our Savior who goes before us.  God’s hand in ours, the congregation of angels surrounding us, repeating the mantra “Rise!” and we find our place next God’s – heaven in our midst.  Brothers and sisters – all of us – we rise together.  AMEN.