A lot of what Jesus says and does is very earthy and very tangible. I like that. He doesn’t hide away from the madness and mess of the world. He tells stories about farming and woodwork and camels and banking and baking and mugging and trees; he heals people by touch, by his spit, through broken roofs; he hangs out with the dodgy and the violent, the prostitutes, tax exiles, and the wealthy, the religious. He gets stuck into religion and politics and community. His birth and his death are very earthy. Even the resurrection is earthy.
Then comes the ascension. I don’t like the ascension. It is odd. It seems like a bit of a damp squib. He just… disappeared. Religious art doesn’t help, pictures of a group of men gazing longingly up to the sky, Jesus’ feet sticking out from a cloud… An embarrassing image for earthy evangelicals. What is it all about?
Jesus is still physical. He is not a floating disembodied spirit. He is as we will be. Jesus is in the place where God rules entirely and completely. We call that place – that dimension – heaven. He is our representative in heaven, at the right hand of God. Why did he go? Because his physical work here was done. My response is something like “Wow!” and “So what?” Because what about us, here, living in the madness and mess of our world? This tangible, earthy stuff – where is God in all this? Why did he go ‘up there’ and leave us to it? From such an earthy Jesus to a disappeared Jesus? It makes me cross.
But there is something that connects the mystery of the ascension and the madness of the world, connects God’s tangible presence in heaven and his tangible presence on earth. Something unexpected and profound. What?
Us. We are the connection. Jesus did not leave us, but lives in us. And Jesus did that because he trusts us. He trusts us to be his representatives. I know, what a silly idea.
But how would it be if Jesus was still here physically? As most of us humans are essentially lazy, we would probably leave most of it to him. Jesus, could you just do this, help me with this.
Someone asks a question and we’d wait for Jesus to answer. But he trusts us to answer them. People we would love him to come and pray for. But he trusts us to pray for them. Messages from him we would love for him to speak out loud, but he trusts us to listen to God and speak them. Kids out there and on the roof we would love him to meet with, but he trusts us to meet with them. All those encounters Jesus had with undesirables and sinners – he trusts us to carry on with that. That care he showed for the outcast, for the poor in spirit – he trusts us to carry on with that. Electing a government? He even trusts us with that.
Jesus is God’s tangible presence in heaven, and we are God’s tangible presence on earth. The mystery and the madness, joined by the trust he places in us. The ascension brought down to earth. That is a coalition to be proud of.
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