I’ve been pondering this for about a week now, and to be honest, a week isn’t nearly long enough to assemble and express my thoughts on this topic. It’s a doozy.
Here’s the deal. I was listening to a sermon by Pastor Mark Driscoll recently; part of a superb series about Jesus where he discusses some common questions about Jesus. Great series. Loved it. Something he talked about really made me think hard about what I believe myself. In fact not so much what I believe, but how I believe it. The ‘it’ in question is the ascension of Jesus and his exaltation. Basically, where Jesus is now and what he’s like.
Now, let me get this clear. I do not have a problem with either of these things. I believe what the Bible says about them. I am not having a crisis of faith or anything. It’s more a problem with the way that I perceive things. I tend to need a good analogy or metaphor or some sort of image in mind in order to wrap my brain around a difficult concept. Now, as far as the incarnation goes, I really like the picture I shared on here a few weeks back where I talked about C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare. I just don’t have that picture for the Ascension and especially not of the Exaltation and I think I have a deficient picture of the risen Jesus in my mind as a result.
I understand that Jesus was raised to life in a physical body which he still inhabits, although he is positionally in heaven. I understand that that body is glorified and not subject to the rules of nature which mine are subject to. As far as I can, I understand that heaven is itself a dimensional reality, not a place you will physically get to if you head upwards and keep on going. The things I find hard to grasp are; what Jesus is physically like now and secondly, why did he have to sort of levitate when he went to Heaven? Was it some sort of theatrical symbolic gesture for the disciples who perceived heaven as being ‘up there’?
Evidently, C.S. Lewis thought about this too. He says…
“Perhaps mere instantaneous vanishing would make us more comfortable, A sudden break between the perceptible and the imperceptible would worry us less than any kind of joint. But if the spectators say they saw first a short vertical movement and then a vague luminosity (that is what ‘cloud’ presumably means here as it certainly does in the account of the Transfiguration) and then nothing – have we any reason to object?”
Perhaps Ruth Etchells got it right when she prayed…
“My Lord Jesus Christ, I do not really begin to understand the mystery of your Ascension, or how to picture it. Only I know that there had to be a time when your physical presence must be withdrawn, for the wider world to encounter your love. And I know that my tender and suffering Lord, and even my victoriously risen and observable Lord, must become the awful and glorious Lord, King beyond time and space, ruling over all the worlds that are and are to be. And I understand that at your Ascension you went through the door between time and eternity… Fill me too with awe and praise as you take up your kingly rule: renew within me the wonder of Ascension Day discipleship. Amen.”
And then, of course you have Jesus in his risen state. I can’t even come close to that. Even John struggled to convey it in Revelation. I doubt that any of us this side of eternity will do any better than he did, so I suppose I’ll have to make do with swords coming out of mouths and thrones and robes dipped in blood for now till I get there and see for myself. I’d just really love an analogy I can get to grips with.
For now, I loop back to Lewis for the only analogy that I can think of that works for me to hang these concepts on; that of Aslan the lion in his resurrected form: more glorious, more regal, more truly real than he ever was before he rose.
I’ll make do with that for now and will try not to be perplexed by the floating incident until I’m better able to deal with it. Whatever happened deeply affected those who saw it and they conveyed it in the best way they could. What makes me think my analogies would be clearer and easier to understand than what was written in the gospels?
Wow. That was a long one…