In Acts 1.1-11, we read that Jesus ‘goes up’ to heaven. When I hear this, all I can hear is an elevator
|Dali's Ascension - a ground's eye view|
But the author of Ephesians has it more right than I do when he prays that the people of God’s church may ‘see with the eyes of your heart’. That helps . . . a little.
The eyes of the heart and the words of Barbara Brown Taylor help me to understand a bit better what this ascension thing is all about: “It was not enough that through him God was born into the body of the world; that was just his Christmas gift to us. His ascension gift was that through him the body of the world was borne (carried) back to God. . . Jesus has not only brought God to us; he has also brought us to God.”
John Calvin says, “Since Christ entered heaven in our flesh, as if in our name . . . in a sense, we already sit with God in the heavenly places in [Christ].” Thus does Jesus open the way to the heavenly kingdom, by which Calvin means that without Jesus, you and I just can’t get ‘there’ from ‘here’.
Using my elevator image, we might say Jesus ‘went up’ in order that we won’t ‘go down’. By opening the gates of heaven, Jesus closes the gates of hell forever.
Brown Taylor puts it this way, “It was almost as if he had not ascended but exploded, so that all the holiness that was once concentrated in him alone flew everywhere, flew far and wide, so that the seeds of heaven were sown in all the fields of the earth.”
Silly as it sounds . . . We do worship a flying Jesus . . .
But it’s a bit like an airplane . . . no matter how well crafted it is, it can’t fly simply because it ‘decides’ to . . . [This might be a good time to make your own paper airplane and try to fly it to heaven. That’s what we did in church today, anyhow.]
What is astonishing is that neither could Jesus . . . Jesus didn’t decide to go to heaven . . . Jesus didn’t fly ‘there’ on the power of his own might or even the power of his own decision . . . Jesus didn’t go to heaven . . . Jesus was taken to heaven . . .
Grace is the word we use to understand this simple, crucial truth . . . of our own power, we can do nothing. Yes, we have work to do. But if we are not very careful, it is oh so easy to believe that the work, and not God, is our pathway to heaven.
Like paper airplanes, human beings who try to fly themselves to heaven will always fall back to earth.
Think of it as the difference between the grateful and the guarded. The grateful share what they have . . . it wasn’t theirs to begin with, so what’s the big deal? The guarded live their lives like characters on apocalyptic television shows, willing to kill to protect their bread from starving others . . .
The guarded always have a plan . . . the grateful simply trust, for they know their plans mean nothing . . . they’ve failed too often not to know.
The guarded know how much work they have done and how much pay they’re entitled to for the work . . . the grateful simply offer thanks for whatever they get, knowing they didn’t earn a bit of it . . .
The guarded think in terms of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, for they have earned what is theirs and expect that you should do likewise. . . the grateful know there is no earning all the bounty they have received, so they simply say ‘thank you’.
The guarded are often angry at the injustices done to themselves by others . . . the grateful are angry with the injustices done to others . . .
The guarded are productive and hold those who are not in contempt . . . the grateful are not productive and so are free to love others simply because they are, and not because of what they do . . .
The guarded are jealous of the successes of others . . . the grateful rejoice in them . . .
The guarded compete . . . the grateful cooperate . . .
The guarded believe good fences make good neighbors . . . the grateful know good fences make only good fences . . . and that a good neighbor is made from being invited in, not being kept out . . .
The guarded believe the path to heaven is a ladder they must perpetually climb lest they be left behind . . . the grateful know the path to heaven is an elevator and their ticket was bought for them by Jesus a very, very, long time ago.