Ascension Day Thoughts, “I’m frank and earnest with women…”
If we hear the word dog, the first word we’ll think of is probably ‘cat’ or perhaps ‘bone’. Psychologists claim to be able to tell much about our view of reality from the way we associate words. I heard a paradigm variation in a movie on TV the other night. A character said, “I’m frank and earnest with women.” I’m sure we’d all like to think of ourselves like that with the opposite sex, wouldn’t we?
The paradigm changed, though, when he then said “I’m called Frank when I’m in Chicago and Earnest when I’m in New York.”
How we see the world around us links with how we visualise words. So when the Bible talks about Jesus ascending to heaven we may, probably unconsciously, fall in with the first century view of the triple-deck cosmos. We imagine heaven is above us and that down in the earth we will come to hades or hell. Our mind shapes our thoughts this way despite knowing that reality isn’t really so.
Don’t worry, though, all is not lost. Our hearts can still overflow with love for our spouses and sweethearts, even though we now know that the heart isn’t the physical source of our feelings. Our love is still real and the metaphor works, even though we now know the heart is only a blood pump.
So how do we look at Jesus’ ascension, given that we now know that the structure of the cosmos isn’t the way the Bible writers probably thought it was?
The Roman Empire was infused with Greek thought, including the three-deck cosmos. Ancient Jewish cosmology was perhaps a little different. The Celts are maybe close when they think about the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth being alongside each other in some mysterious sense but veiled off from each other. Hence Celtic talk about ‘thin places’, where the veil is thinner and you can almost see into heaven.
The ancient Israelites thought about the Jerusalem Temple as being the physical point of connection between Heaven and Earth. That was the root of the dispute between the divided kingdoms (after Solomon) about whether worship outside Jerusalem was possible. That led to the long-running dispute between Jews and Samaritans that drove part of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman he met at a well.
So does that make any difference to us in 2013. I think it does. Jesus predicted that the Temple would be torn down, as happened in AD70. Not one stone was left on another after that. The new Temple that Jesus talked about before he died would instead be built from believers.
That physical location of the interlock between heaven and earth is wherever there is a believer. Wherever we are, in Jerusalem, Samaria, or at the very end of the earth, our Lord is in heaven, alongside each of us wherever we are, and only a veil away.
Each believer is the physical place through which the God’s Holy Spirit can flow to make God’s will done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
For you, Jesus Christ came into the world and lived among us.
For you he faced the darkness of Gethsemane and the horror of Calvary.
For you he rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven.
There he now prays for each of us, even if we do not know it yet.
So the word of Scripture is fulfilled: We love God because God first loved us.
(With thanks to the French Reformed Church)