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Going Up? Reflections on Ascension Day

June 01, 2011

By Bruce Epperly

The Ascension of Jesus (celebrated Sunday, June 5 this year) is a peculiar day in the Christian calendar. In a de-centered, non-hierarchical world, most of us don't know which way is up! The idea that Jesus ascended to a God "up there" is just as strange as Harold Camping's image of corpses flying up to the sky along with today's believers. Some Christians still live in a three-story universe—heaven above, earth between, hell below—but few people believe, as one pastor stated, that if you get into a space ship and fly far enough, you'll find a place called "heaven."

What are we to make of Jesus' Ascension? Of course, it's not out of the question that Jesus defied gravity, but is that the real point? Is the Ascension about gravity or spirituality, geography or vocation?
Acts 1:6-11 describes the Ascending Christ. First, the disciples quiz him about the fulfillment of history, the restoration of Israel. Jesus' response is purposely vague, and still remains good counsel for those who seek a precise date for judgment day or the fulfillment of history. "It is not for you to know the times or periods." Rather, we are to await the coming of God's Spirit and the missional power that comes from encountering the Holy, whether in the 1st or 21st centuries.

Finished with his counsel, Jesus is lifted up, and the disciples are left gazing into the heavens until an angel admonishes, "Why do you stand looking toward heaven?" The angel promises Jesus' ultimate return, but that's not the point. The point is that the disciples' mission and our own is right here—in our time and place and on our planet not some far off sphere.

The point of Ascension is perspective. Rising to the clouds gives us a broader perspective on our lives and the planet. Rather than individualistic images of salvation and personal well-being, Ascension challenges us to bring heaven to earth, that is, to live Jesus' values in our world. As the Lord's Prayer proclaims, "Thy kingdom (or realm) come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." When we live from a higher perspective, we can transcend our own self-interest to embrace the well-being of the whole earth, including strangers, enemies, and non-humans.

Read the rest of this article at Patheos.com here.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living.


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