Friday, May 2, 2008

A Note on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

This week was even more scattered than last week, so that once again I have not had time to prepare complete notes on the readings. Nonetheless, there is one observation on this Sunday's reading from the first chapter of Acts
The first reading links the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost by concluding with the return of the apostles from the mountain to Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit.
The Ascension is often spoken of as if Jesus went up into the sky like a balloon higher and higher until he faded from the sight of his disciples, or even derisively as if he he was a spaceman. But the account in Acts does not warrant this. We are told that Jesus “was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.” Indeed there is no reason to suppose a gradual ascent and disappearance. The cloud that took Jesus is the same cloud that came down on the mountain of the Transfiguration. All through the Bible the cloud is the sign of God's presence. Jesus has gone to heaven, not into the sky. (Briefly, this is why it is a mistake to think of Jesus as having "gone away".)
In this context, we might note the emphasis in the passage on seeing, which is also found in the proper prefaces for the Ascension in the Book of Common Prayer and the BAS, whic state that: Christ “after his most glorious Resurrection manifestly appeared to all his Apostles, and in their sight ascended up into heaven.” In the description of Christ’s ascension in Acts, five words of seeing are used: “As they were watching … a cloud took him out of their sight.” “While …. they were gazing up toward heaven …” "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? …. This Jesus … will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
The fact that Ascension is a highly symbolic act this does not mean it was invented by the evangelist. As has been pointed out very often, if the author of Acts was clever enough to use the symbolism, then surely Christ was clever enough to act it out.
This was rather hasty, and I hope to have a more relaxed set of notes next week.

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