Wednesday, 8 May 2013

On a Formerly-Dead Person Floating into the Sky

There's that rather lovely detail in the roof of the Chapel of the Ascension in Walsingham - just a pair of pierced feet, heading up through a fluffy cloud and through the roof. In a place that always totters on that wiggly line between awe and whimsy, I always think that chapel's pushed it slightly too far.
But why? I think partly that the whole thing's a bit too clean. Surely even Jesus' resurrected feet would have been dirty with their contact with our planet? Partly because it's just a bit cartoony - a bit on the marzipan-icing side. But mostly because my brain revolts against the whole idea of Jesus just hovering up into the air, like he's got a jet-pack.

You see, I don't see Heaven as being a point up the other side of the clouds, with Hell as a point somewhere beneath where we've just been planting out the strawberry runners. Obviously, in a scientific world, that's the case - especially on a round planet, in a curved universe. There's no way out upwards. If you went forever in one direction, you'd end up back where you came from.

And while I'm on the subject, I'm unaware of a single verse in the Bible where anyone expresses a worry that, if you did down far enough, you might find Hell. The Old Testament concept of "Hades" seems to be grave-like - a damp, dismal kind of a place - and obviously you could dig down to a grave -  but there are no injunctions against mining too deep, in case you disturbed the denizens. Maybe the Hebrews were more metaphorical than we ever give them credit for?

So anyway. Back to a hill outside Jerusalem, according to Luke. The disciples see Jesus, he gives some last-minute instructions, resists the urge to nip back to Capernaum to check he's locked the door - and is lifted up and hidden by a cloud. We are not told he goes up to the top of the sky - he's just hidden. We've no indication of how high he went.

The important thing is not the physical details of elevation. It's what logically follows. He's not here any more - not in such a way that the disciples can trace him up until he's a dot. He's gone to be with his Father, and he's coming back.

Don't you love the angels' vagueness? He's going to come back the same way he went - but is that in 10 days' time, on the Day of Pentecost, or at some identified spot we can call, for sake of argument, the End of Days? We're not told. Maybe it's both. Maybe it's something that happens every time a new believer believes, or is baptised, or just recalls Jesus' presence.

But there's one thing we now know. Pierced by thorns, slashed by a whip, holed by nails, cut open by a spear, dirtied by three decades of wear and tear on this abrasive planet - there's a human being on a throne in heaven. As we fight and fall ill, abuse each other and die, those wounds we suffer and inflict are already made glorious in heaven. It makes our present sufferings not an ounce lighter - and it doesn't reduce the damage we do one little bit - but it gives it meaning, an end, a resolution, a redemption. Your hurts, my hurts - they're all wrapped up into the world-ending, eternal, freely-carried hurts in the place where hurt shouldn't be able to go - tied into the sufferings of the God who can't suffer, raised from the death of the God who can't die. It may not stop the pain, but somehow it makes it feel like it's shared.


  1. Your last paragraph says it all. Alleluia!

  2. For the ultimate Jesus with jet-pack you need to head east from Walsingham to hit the coast at Cromer, and the west window of Ss Peter and Paul.

    1. You're right. Our Lord clearly invented jet propulsion before he quit our little blue planet.

  3. What Perpetua said and then some!
    Beautifully put. Thanks.


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