When I was young I thought Jesus had become an Astronaut.
I always had this picture in my head, there was Jesus after the Resurrection and spending 40 days with the disciples teaching and preparing them for what was next. The time came for His physical presence to leave them on the Day of Ascension and how I saw it was Jesus taking off in a cloud and rocketing off into space. The disciples staring up until He was only a pinprick in the sky and then they couldn’t see Him any longer as He rocketed off to the stars and then into heaven. In truth that image has stuck with me for a long time.
But I really don’t like that image because it teaches that Jesus is really far off right now, somewhere in this place we call heaven, which seems a really long way away right now and even though Jesus says He is with us it feels more like a long distance phone call to Mars than a friend walking along beside me.
I think this is the thought we carry often, not only of Jesus, but also of those we have loved and are now with the Lord in Glory, that all of them are far off and distant and we’re kinda stuck here, following a blinking neon sign in the sky, trudging through the mud until we finally get there as well.
But constantly God’s Word is reminding us with the words
Lo, I am with you always
where two or three are gathered together in my name I am there also
take eat, this IS my body, this IS my blood
I am really here Jesus promises, with you right now, in faith, in the midst of our family of faith worshipping together and those who we love and are with the Lord are sharing with us in the worship of Jesus at this moment in the communion of the saints that we dwell in together as Christians.
None of this is meant metaphorically, like someone lives on in your heart, kind of idea, Which is true of our experience of the memories and effect our loved one has had in our lives. But we are talking about the independent and still existing reality of Jesus Christ and the Saints who have gone before us, not far away in some distant land, but here with us joined together by the love of God in Jesus.
I think the confusion comes about with our understanding of the world around us. Even for the most religious of us, we have still grown up in a culture that is very materialistic, that places little value in the Spirit and relegates a faithful life to the isolated private sector of our lives apart from the everyday “real” world. This overemphasis of the material over the spiritual has led to a knee jerk reaction where we are seeking to fill that void that material stuff simply cannot fill, but we might be looking in all the wrong places. This is why we see this almost manic obsession with paranormal activity, ghosts, spirits and the occult and with this a realization that there is more to creation than simply meets the eye. Even our own study of nature tells us that underneath all this seemingly solid stuff is really the interaction of subatomic particles. If this is true of the natural, material world, how much more so for the spiritual creation of God.
That is a far better way of putting the pieces together. God created the Heavens and the Earth, this is not simply shorthand for the planet we are walking on and the stars in the sky, it is a much bigger confession of faith. Before God there was nothing, only God, and God created from His Word all that exists. The Heavens, which is the spiritual creation, the dwelling place of God, the realm of angels and fallen spirits and those who have died and live now with the Lord and serve Him and those that are apart from God. The Earth, the material creation of flesh and blood, molecules and particles, the creation that we first dwell within at conception and leave at physical death. These creations are two parts of the same whole, the same creation, not separated from each other but each existing in and with each other. This is even what we confess when we receive the Lord’s Supper, we are receiving the spiritual and sacramental body and blood of Jesus Christ in, with and under the physical bread and wine, both joined together, but it is the physical that we normally see in this physical world, not the spiritual, but it’s spiritual reality in our lives is no less real.
Look up on a sunny day and squint at the sun that we see so easily go around us, rising in the east and setting in the west, if we looked no farther than what our natural knowledge can tell us we wouldn’t know the difference or in reality need to know for mere survival that we are actually going around that sun at speeds far faster than any race car, rotating around an ellipsis with other planets around that great ball of gas together like a torpedo hurtling through the vastness of the material creation all done by God’s hand so life could exist.
Like clouds always do on a sunny day float past the sun and for a while we can’t see the sun anymore. This doesn’t mean that the sun isn’t there anymore but it is simply hidden from physical sight, while it’s effects and reality still continue to warm the world around us and the vast reality of the universe is still there intimately entwined in every part of our lives even if we don’t see it or even acknowledge it.
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
The cloud at the Ascension of Jesus is just the same, Jesus did not rocket off into space, far away from all we are and go through, but his physical presence was hidden from sight in this world only for a little while, but all that Jesus is as he lives and rules and saves and guides each of us in that vast spiritual reality with all of the saints in glory is just behind the cloud, right there beside you in faith and here with us together as promised in worship and in the Body and Blood of our Savior at the Table. Walking with you, touching your life and heart, guiding and caring, right beside throughout your journey in this life and throughout the next.
Why the cloud, why the separation, why not let us all be one. God has promised that the time will come when that will be true, and it is soon, when Heaven and Earth will be brought together and God will come and dwell in the midst of His people and sustains us with His eternal presence. But until the fulfillment of time which is not ours to know, we right now, still have a life to live, love to receive and love to give. God will not force anyone of us to live that life filled with HIs love and sharing that love with others and that is what His immediate presence would do, there would be no choice for us, instead we would simply be overwhelmed by the Holy Presence of God. But God has called us to friendship and love with Him, not by force but by the response in the heart when the Word is heard and faith is created.
In this life, that which God has called you to do, to receive His love, respond to HIs love and Share that Love as you have already received and responded too and are learning even now how to share that love, you are successful, you are already what God has called you to be. Now we spend our lives on this side of the cloud freely exploring all what that Christian life looks like. For us, for now, the cloud remains, but just for a little while, and even though Jesus is hidden from sight right now, He is still with you and walking with you every step of the way.