This Sunday we will observe the Day of Ascension (the Day of Ascension -- 40 days after Easter-- is actually observed on Thursday this year). What is Ascension and how does it function in our theologies? We have enough trouble with Easter and Pentecost, what do we make of this event that suggests that Jesus disappeared into the clouds?
As I contemplate this question for sermon and such, I'm also participating/leading a study of N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope. In this book, he suggests that heaven and earth are actually close by each other, essentially overlapping each other, with heaven serving as the "control room of earth." So, where does Ascension fit into the picture? Well to answer that question we have to come to an understanding of the relationship of heaven and earth.
Wright offers a suggestion that resonates with my mind, as I've long thought that we should think in terms of different dimensions of reality rather than trying to fit heaven and earth into the same space/time continuum. To understand Ascension, Wright suggests, we must take a "relational view." So consider this statement:
Basically heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are two different dimensions of God's good creation. And the point about heaven is twofold. First, heaven relates to earth tangentially so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth: the ascension therefore means that Jeus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him. Second, heaven is, as it were, the control room for earth; it is the CEO's office, the place from which instructions are given. "All authority is given to me," said Jesus at the end of Matthew's gospel, "in heaven and on earth." (Surprised by Hope, p. 111).
I find this intriguing and suggestive. It takes us beyond the hold of literalism or simple modernist skepticism, to consider another realm of understanding. It also invites us to consider the way in which God is present and active in our own context through Jesus.