Making Heaven On Earth
Lucas Johnson – our young up-and-coming tennis star swept to victory in the All State Tennis Doubles with his court partner Alex Caizzi over the weekend. You can see the write up and awesome pic of Lucas in the
Tonight’s Episcopal East Side parishes celebration of the Ascension at St Stephen’s, presents an opportunity to address some questions about the Ascension from an imaginary parishioner.
Q: Why has the Ascension never registered on my spiritual radar?
A: Because it always falls on the last Thursday in May, 40 days after Easter and 10 days before Pentecost. Because most Episcopalians no longer attend weekday services, the Ascension is usually observed on the following Sunday.
Q: I can’t really take seriously the idea of Jesus floating up through the clouds with feet dangling into a separate realm three miles above the earth.
A: Yes, some very bad Ascension-tide theology in prayers and hymns pictures Jesus jettisoning his humanity like a discarded suit of clothes as he ascends through the clouds to heaven where a fine new set of divine clothes await him. This image is not only unhelpful for most of us today, it’s theologically toxic. The Ascension is actually the opposite from the popular image. Think of it like this. The Ascension of Jesus is God incorporating the fullest expression of being human - now represented by the post-resurrection human Jesus - into the divine identity.
Q: Where exactly is heaven?
A: Heaven is another way of talking about God-Space as compared with Our-Space. The first Christians didn’t think about heaven as somewhere up there; a medieval idea. Even though they pictured heaven being all around them, they made a distinction between heaven as God-Space and Our-Space with God-Space interleaving and interpenetrating the temporal dimension of Our-Space. To make a contemporary Sci-Fi analogy, God-Space and Our-Space are parallel dimensions occupying the same place or location.
Q: Wow, so, when I die, I will cross over into God-Space in the same way as Jesus at the Ascension?
A: Yes, you could put it this way. But being with God in God-Space is not the ultimate goal of our living. Our goal is to work tirelessly to implement the expectations of God-Space in Our-Space before we die. The human Jesus passed through the interdimensional boundary – from Our-Space to God-Space, in order that the dynamic Spirit of God could move back across in the other direction - from God-Space to infuse Our-Space.
Q: So, this dynamic Spirit the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?
A: Yes. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence penetrating the Our-Space dimension. The Spirit empowers us to act in participation with God in the work of repairing the creation.
Q: That feels like quite a responsibility.
A: That’s well put. Through being God’s agents in Our-Space we are assisting God in preparing for an eventual time when Our-Space and God-Space become One-Space. God’s incorporation of Jesus’ full humanity in the Ascension is a foretaste of what the Bible refers to in the language of a new heaven and a new earth.
Q: The Ascension really sets-out the Our-Space agenda then?
A: Exactly! The Irish poet John Donohue in his final stanza of Morning Offering captures it:
May [we] have the courage today
To live the life that [we] would love,
To postpone [our] dream no longer
But do at last what [we] came here for
And waste [our] heart[s] on fear no more.
Hope to see you tonight and if not, see you in church on Sunday.