Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ascension



The Bear has a confession to make.


The Ascension is a troubling feast for him.

Many miraculous occurrences trouble him not in the slightest, but the image of Jesus floating skyward like a balloon whose string has slipped the grasp of a child is a little hard to take. Why he should cavil about the Ascension when he was just celebrating without the shadow of a doubt a virgin mother's visit to a relative is hard to explain.

Perhaps it is the modern mind, which knows that above us is, in John Lennon's words, only sky, then a cold infinity of space lightly salted with island universes of galaxies.

Yet this explanation fails. The men of Galilee knew just as well as we do that virgins don't give birth, the dead don't rise, and men don't float up into the sky. Indeed, they were so dumbstruck that angels were dispatched to ask them why they were looking up into the sky, or they would be there to this day.

The simple truth is that we believe in the Ascension because it is what happened. It is too easy and naïve to imagine, and it makes us feel a little silly. But when we think about it, it is the only possible end of Jesus Christ's raid.

If he had just disappeared one night, there would have been an ellipsis at the end of his story, not an exclamation mark.

If he had disappeared quietly, the apostles and disciples would never have known when he might be showing up for dinner with broiled fish.

If he had wandered into the desert, people would have expected him to wander back onto the world's stage.

If the earth had opened and swallowed him, well, that would hardly do, would it?

If he had combusted in a glory of fire -- no, that is just disturbingly close to spontaneous human combustion.

No, ascending into the sky is the only exit possible.

  • he takes his body with him, important for sound Christology
  • his mission comes to a decisive end
  • we are shown  how he will come again
  • potential rumors of his return are stifled
  • he goes to where he came: Heaven

Some imagery is best not dwelt on. The floating Jesus is a small stumbling block, although the Bear knows it should not be. That is why the Bear likes the picture of the two angels, no less miraculous, after all. It satisfies his imagination and lets his mind realize the truth of the Ascension.

6 comments:

  1. Artists right up to the present day seem to have struggled to get their minds around the Ascension too, and to create imagery that convinces. A cursory internet search makes me think that there may be a more dazzling variety of artistic treatments of the Ascension than of any event in the Scriptural account of Jesus’ earthly sojourn save His Crucifixion. (The Nativity, though a beloved subject of artists over the centuries, is generally depicted as a set piece with comparatively little variation.)

    Some of the depictions are touchingly literal: the Disciples gape in wonderment as two bare feet disappear into a cloud above their heads. Others show Christ seeming to levitate above the onlookers in a state of serene and majestic composure. Others envision Him out of sight but shedding radiance from beyond the clouds; still others see His distant silhouette imprinted on the dome of the Heavens, a haunting afterimage.

    For me, the ability of the angels pictured above to express the inexpressible is at once exciting and troubling - similarly to that of the angel at the empty tomb. Partings are no less traumatic for being necessary. We crave reassurance - even though the words of Our Lord Himself should provide it beyond measure. We know the Beloved is waiting for us, in a place of safety beyond the confusion of this world. But we want to see Him now.

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  2. Beautiful comment. It is indeed hard to get one's "mind around" the Ascension. There are presumably just a few actual bodies in Heaven: Jesus, Mary, Enoch, Elijah. Do they exist in a material setting in our universe, far away? A particularly chunky part of Heaven? To ask such questions is to answer them: "Don't be silly!"

    If there's one thing we know about the Catholic God (with apologies to the Holy Father) it is that he is parsimonious with His information. We get the bare minimum we need to be saved, and that's it. God is not interested in our curiosity. The Gospels are so short; and so much one like the other, at least the synoptics.

    In this case, however, barely enough is more than we could ever hope for. One of the marks of truth in the Gospels (and Acts) is that there are not many extraneous details. If you have ever read some of the apocryphal books, they are very wild indeed, full of pointless miracles like the lad Jesus making clay birds that come to life, and talking crosses, and who knows what other wonders. Works of imagination tend to be imaginative. The Gospels are laconic almost to the point of accusing the Evangelists of being underachievers.

    Perhaps the best thing to look at in this scene is not Our Lord's blessed feet sticking out of a cloud, but the funny expressions on everybody's faces. "Did you see what I saw?" Otherwise the mind starts off in unedifying directions, like pilot Bear imagining that Jesus was instrument flight rated (almost certainly), or was he actually the first man in space, not Yuri Gagarin (take that Godless Commies, although Gagarin is likely he was a believer, and never said his famous quote about not seeing God.)

    When you get down to it, it is the effect of miracles that counts, not the mechanism. Many a Sunday school boy or girl has tried to imagine exactly how the loaves and fishes miracles really looked. Hollywood could pull something spectacular off, nowadays, but it would be a mistake. Let God keep his little secrets. We're hardly worthy of the big things, let alone the little.

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  3. The Badger family heard the most wonderful talk on the Ascension last night....TRULY inspired and beautiful. I'll post the link for you when it goes up on audio. The main site is Instituteofcatholicculture.org and they have hundreds of hours of world class speakers on all aspects of the Faith for free download or listening in their library. It really is a gem of a resource, and they have a live webcam to watch events on a live stream. Last night's talk should be up already on video, but the audios take a while to get posted. Check them out, and if you have the time, watch the video from last night (only about an hour, and truly, TRULY exceptional...the tie-in to Pentecost in a way you've probably never pondered on is particularly timely).

    BTW....lovely comments from you both Jane and Bear.

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  4. Thank you so much, Susan, for the information on instituteofcatholicculture.org. I was unaware of its existence! Will be using it a lot, methinks.

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  5. Great resource, Mrs. Badger. I am listening to a lecture on Romans right now. We just started that for our lectio Divine. It is a hard epistle, and the lecture is great.

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  6. SO glad you two are enjoying the Institute...it is a true treasure!

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