Ascension – Descending and Ascending in Love
Vintage commercial from the 1970’s. It is a classic good commercial because the gimmick and message became a part of our speech. Maybe if you are at least as old as me, you remember.
Woman in front of a screen with images popping up behind her: She says: the traffic. Honking horns. She says: The boss. An image of a man yelling through an old style phone. She says: The baby. There is an image of a child crying. She says: The dog. The screen shows a dog barking, woof. “That does it. Calgon take me away.” she declares. And in a scene reminiscent of the spinning house in the Wizard of Oz movie, she finds herself transferred – lounging in a luxurious bubble bath.
The announcer says: Lose your cares in the luxury of a Calgon bath. Calgon softens the water to leave skin feeling silky smooth as it lifts your spirits. The soft luxurious fragrant world of Calgon. Pamper yourself with a Calgon bath. Lose yourself in luxury.
There is a temptation to believe that the Ascension is Jesus ascending up away out of the problems of this world.
In Acts, Jesus is being taken away, up, up into the heavens leaving the disciples looking up. We realize that the disciples still don’t get it. They have been clueless about his mission. They wanted a messiah to kick out the Romans. They have seen him die, rise and then now, he is leaving again. Their misunderstanding is understandable. They are living in difficult times. There’s a lot of uncertainty. The Romans are still in charge … Israel still does not have autonomy. They want out.
It is a common human desire for all of us, like the Calgon woman. Let’s leave this aging body; financial woes; the pesky neighbors; the challenging high school relationships. We just want to get away.
Throughout Christianity there has been a tendency of escapism. Early Christianity: Gnosticism taught that the world is bad and the body is a prison and Christ showed us the way out of this world.
More recently, Millennial versions of Christianity claim that some will go up and others will be left behind.
For the disciples, it is only after Pentecost when the disciples began to understand what the Ascension is all about.
They began to reflect on the entirety of Jesus’ life. Reflected on Incarnation, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and all of his teachings. It was like a dot to dot puzzle where the last dot takes you back to the beginning to close in the image and now you can see what it is. The last dot of Jesus’ life is the Ascension. This makes the picture of Jesus complete. A God who loved the world, broke into the world and was a part of it in the person of Jesus. He drew to Himself all of those people on the margins. All those who were alienated. He drank our humanity to the depth. In the Creed we say: He descended into hell. Jesus Christ experienced the depths of the greatest human alienation from God, even to death. Hell is as far as you go into the descent. The Ascent began with the resurrection. The cycle is complete with the Ascension because the One from heaven returns to heaven and draws all things to himself.
Ascension is part of the paschal mystery, not an addition to it. Ascension is integral to the Easter Story. In ascending to the right hand of the Father, Jesus brought his full humanity – the totality of all he experienced, lived, and loved on earth – into the fullness of the divine reality. All that we humans experience – our hopes, and fears, what delights us and what terrifies us – is now forever embraced and transformed, through Christ into the divine life of God.
Our faith has very little to do with escape. It really has to do with incorporation which means: To bring into the body. It literally means to … to incorporate all of humanity into the cosmic body of Christ.
This is hard to describe. Paul: we are in Christ and Christ is in us. We have died and we have risen with Christ. We are one body in Christ. In Christ everything continues in being. Christ draws all things to Himself. Not some things, but all things. That is the language of incorporation/transformation. Of union. Union with all things, with all creation because we have union with Christ.
Sometimes people try to achieve union with God. Union has already been achieved. No, our job is to realize the union with Christ that we already have. And with all things.
Far from escaping a nasty world, faithful Christians penetrate this world. We continue the work of incorporation that has been started by Christ.
We do this as Jesus did, by descending, by entering into, not escaping from this wounded world but by reaching out to the marginalized, To those outside the body and we say: you too belong. It is a process of self-emptying.
Our job is descent to where Christ is here among us. Jesus sends his apostles out to all the nations to be witnesses or martyrs as it is in Greek … it is hard work. Be part of the transformation of this world.
We do it by recognizing our own brokenness, our own woundedness. We identify where Christ has come to us in our brokenness and woundedness. He accepts us in our woundedness. Christ never says: Come to me when you get your act together. He is with us here and now. That is how we begin the process of incorporation. We recognize that it has happened to us.
The human truth is that we often long to escape to leave the messy world and to ascend to where God is. Jesus’ way is not to escape the messy world but to enter into it and to transform it with love.
Ascension – Descending and Ascending in Love