“So, we got Jesus in there. How do we get him back out again?” It must have been a dilemma for God and his angelic extraction team as they figured out how to reunite Father and Son.
Back in the day, Elijah had an Uber chariot to get him away, though he lost his favourite cloak in the process and the driver swore he couldn’t find it. Maybe Elijah had gone through the app with Jesus during the transfiguration? But either the battery on Jesus’ phone had died or Uber didn’t have a permit for the Olivet district of Jerusalem.
Exit, pursued by a bear
Perhaps Shakespeare had the right idea in ‘A Winter’s Tale’, where one of the characters says: “I am gone for ever” – followed by that famous stage direction of: ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’. I suspect the Acts of the Apostles would have been read more widely if Luke had included that in his script.
Maybe Jesus should ride off into the sunset, like at the end of a Saturday matinee. Though it would need to be on a donkey rather than on a horse called Champion or Tornado or Silver.
Perhaps we think of the ascension as Jesus doing a levitation act, like the Bradford illusionist, Dynamo?
Beam me up, Scotty
For those of a similar age to me perhaps we envisage Jesus being beamed up, like in Star Trek? Afterall, the T in James T Kirk stood for Tiberius, the Emperor of Rome at the time of the ministry and execution of Jesus. So, there’s a certain pleasing symmetry to that idea.
And down the ages, artists have got creative in all sorts of ways in conveying the departure of Jesus. But you know many of those paintings use as much, if not more, canvas and paint on the disciples as they do on Jesus. Because the ascension is as much about us as it is about him.
Some think of him going up in a rather splendid holy lift. For others it’s more of a Mary Poppins moment.
Maybe there was a reception committee of cherubs waiting for him, or invisible wires taking him up like Peter Pan at the theatre.
Do the apostles just get to see the soles of his feet? Do they still show signs of being pierced? Or in the forty days has he healed?
I particularly love some of the medieval pictures where the bottom half of Jesus seems to be dangling from the base of a cloud – but instead of leaving his cloak he leaves his footprints. He’s gone – but the signs of his having been here are still imprinted in the earth.
Of course, Jesus had to leave. The apostles still didn’t get it. If Jesus was the Messiah, then part of the job description was to liberate them from oppression. If he’d stayed, they would have just followed him round, expectant that every action would bring down the Roman Empire – to bring in a new world order; to introduce that new Kingdom that he kept talking about.
And Jesus’ response is that it’s not for you to know the time when this will happen. But my going means that you will get power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Power to do all that I can do. So, it’ll be for you, not me, to bring in the new Kingdom.
Because Jesus didn’t come to be the centre of attention. He came to transform us through love. To heal us and redeem us. To make us look out and not in.
In this painting, one of the apostles isn’t looking up at all. He’s looking at us, looking at him. He’s caught us. We’re no longer by-standers and it’s no longer so whimsical. We are wrapped up in this too, we are part of the drama.
He’s challenging us, challenging you and me. He’s saying: “Jesus is going, so what are you going to do now? What are you going to do next?”
In our passage, two men, presumably angels, suddenly appear asking the apostles: “What are you doing staring up there?” It’s rather like the line in To Kill a Mockingbird: “There are just some kind of people who’re so busy worrying about the next world that they’ve never learned to live in this one”.
Get on with it
Ascension is an odd time. We mention it in the creed most weeks. But, unlike Christmas and Easter, there’s no bank holiday here. No cards or chocolates or presents exchanged. But it’s that vital part in the church year when we’re told by God to get on with it. “I’ll give you the tools and I’ll give you the back-up. Now go and bring the Kingdom of God to this place.” Because that’s what we were put here to do, that’s what we’ve been empowered to do.
And that may mean feeding the hungry or clothing those who need it. It may mean fighting for justice and equality. Or it may just mean looking at each other rather than up to the sky. Getting to know and care for each other. “What I want is love, not sacrifice” as it says in Hosea.
God willing, soon that will be in person, but till then it will be via technology like this. Amen.
“How do we get him back” was given by Ian Banks on Sunday 24th May 2020. It’s based on Acts 1:6-14 and was a St Zoom’s production, delivered on-line to a scattered congregation in the Bury, Heywood and Rochdale area. For Maureen Thorp’s homily for Trinity Sunday please press here.
- ‘Love not sacrifice’ is from Hosea 6:6
- Inspired by: https://georgetownlutheran.com/2018/05/16/sermon-from-5-13-18-ascension-sunday/
- Please also read this post by Jonny Baker on ‘flipped church’. This is a really thought provoking piece on how we should be spending time together: https://pioneer.churchmissionsociety.org/2020/05/flipped-church/
- And this by Heidi A Campbell on ‘The Distanced Church: Reflections on Doing Church Online’