I was thinking about sharing a few thoughts on this weeks lectionary text. We’ve come to the end of the “official” Easter season. Pentecost is right around the corner. Ascension Sunday is upon us. This week’s gospel lectionary presents a major problem. While it’s one thing to talk about the disciples encountering the risen Jesus in new ways following the resurrection, the story of the Ascension is just plain strange. I embrace this strangeness freely, in case you’re wondering. The strangeness helps us ask the right questions and get to the heart of the larger question. Yes, Jesus is here one minute issuing a litany of last minute Bible studies and in the next; he’s lifting off to resupply the international space station. Don’t get caught up in an overly literal reading of the text or we might miss the larger point altogether. Literally, we need to keep this down to earth.
From one perspective, it seems one of the hokiest ways to end the story of Jesus’ time with his disciples on Earth. From another, it seems incredibly dramatic and cool. Needless to say, I question the authorship and veracity of Luke 24:44-53. The vast majority of mainstream Biblical scholars share this same belief. Do I know what happened? No, I do not. I do not believe that Jesus flew up into heaven and disappeared into the clouds. This is because I believe the early church used the phrase “ascended into heaven”, to mean simply “he is no longer with us”. I don’t think the first century Christians took the word literally. I could be wrong. However, there’s outstanding research by first rate scholars in this country and Europe to support this idea. The idea of “ascending” is a (i.e. a 1st century way of understanding the cosmos when you have no other words to describe it) way of saying “Jesus isn’t here”. The entire ascension event seems like something Luke created to tell a better story to transition to the next volume of his story, Acts. That’s my educated guess, my opinion.
The question presented by the Ascension isn’t the veracity of the Biblical text. It’s the truth behind the image. How do we learn to live without the physical reality of Christ in our lives? That’s what Jesus himself was preparing his disciples for his entire earthly ministry. Is it possible to be a Christian and follow the teachings of Jesus if Jesus isn’t here to guide us? This is the question we begin to wrestle with as we journey toward Pentecost. Who will guide us in the absence of Christ? What role does the church community play as the body of Christ when Christ’s physical body is gone? This is what this text is about; it is not about a jet pack Jesus.