A little while

Bethlehem is just 10 kilometres from Jerusalem. You’d walk it in a couple of hours. It took Jesus 30 years and more, years that led him to Egypt as a refugee, Nazareth as a child and a carpenter’s apprentice and then a packed life of proclaiming the reign of God to a resistant people.

A few stayed with him to the end, regrouping after being scattered by the events leading to his death. These witnessed his final appearances after he rose from the dead. Neither Matthew nor John mentions it, but there was a tradition that he finally left them by dramatically withdrawing from them, ascending to heaven.

This is recalled in our creeds and it is expanded in the letter to the Ephesians into a final exaltation of him as “ruler of everything … far above every Sovereignty, Authority and Power not only in this world but in the age to come.”

It is always dazzling to me how soon the early Church made this transition from Jesus of Nazareth to ‘ruler of everything’ in just a few years.

And what is more, they recognised that the barriers were broken down between heaven and earth. This is a key to our understanding of the Ascension; one moment Jesus is with those he calls “my friends” and the next he is withdrawing from them into heaven.

No wonder John was to write many years later, “You will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (1:51). At its best, religion leads us to the compassionate heart of God and a discovery of his longing to share his life with us.

How far this is from the grotesque news we heard this week of the young pregnant woman in Pakistan stoned for following the love of her heart. Religion, all religions, can be used to build barriers and shut out the friendship God offers. We have a right and a duty to be outraged at any form of abuse of relationships which is so contrary to God’s purpose. The message of the Ascension is the direct opposite of any form of manipulation and control which blocks access to a loving God.

We have work to do. The disciples had work to do. They had been told about “a little while” (John 16:16) in which they would not see him. This applied, firstly, to his death and their seeing him again.

But it also applied to that time when they would carry out their mission and we would carry out ours.

We don’t have much time. Wherever you look there are urgent things to address; global warming, human trafficking, oppressive traditions (as with the woman in Pakistan) and many others on our own door step.

This is no time for “staring into the heavens” (Acts1:11) but of engagement in the issues staring us in the face.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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