“When Jesus ascended into heaven, where, exactly, did he go?” This question, posed by a friend in a bible study group, took me off guard. Because we associate “heaven” with the sky, it is natural to picture Jesus rising into the clouds. Browse the web and this is precisely what shows up in paintings and illustrations of this mysterious event.
The Ascension of the Lord
The beauty of Scripture study is the opportunity we are given to gaze at the events, stories, and teachings of Jesus in the gospels through an ever-widening lens. When it comes to the Ascension of the Lord, new possibilities arise. Perhaps it was more of a horizontal passage than a vertical one, taking Jesus to new heights by moving across time and space into open, yearning, and wounded hearts. Given that the view of the “heavens” in the Book of Genesis is one of a “dome” that separates the “waters above from the waters below” (Genesis 1:7), the account of the Ascension might have held a very different view for the people of Jesus’ time than that of the artists who rendered him sky-bound. Luke ends his Gospel with the account of the Ascension, but begins the Acts of the Apostles with the Pentecost event. In a dramatic depiction complete with wind and fire, Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled, thus depicting his presence in an entirely new way.
One of my oldest and dearest friends recently suffered a massive heart attack and his life hangs in the balance. Each day, as his family and friends await news about his ability to recover, we look for something close and imminent, rather than celestial and transcendent, to bring consolation and hope. As the great feast of the Ascension and the feast of Pentecost draw near, I draw comfort from that dome-like image of the heavens and the warming presence of God’s Spirit. It brings to mind images of Jesus hovering over humankind in an all-encompassing way. Such is my prayer for my friend and all those in need of a sheltering presence.
As the Easter season draws to a close, consider the ways you have experienced the comforting presence of Jesus in your life. Bring this to your class or family prayer this week.