Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies. — St Augustine, sermon on Ascension Day
I find the story of the Ascension of Jesus to be a very difficult one. Are we dealing with a historical event, or are we meant to understand it as something symbolic?
If it’s a historical event, it really only makes sense to me if we live on a flat earth.
That may have been ok for the disciples. They lived in a three-storey universe. Heaven, the home of God, was somewhere beyond the clouds; hades, the place of the dead, was below the earth. And we are in the middle of the two.
So when Jesus ascends he travels a short distance to heaven, and he is hidden in a cloud. A cloud, for them, symbolised the hidden, mysterious presence of God.
Think of a photo of the earth from space. Jerusalem is on just about the opposite side of the world from Brisbane.
My question is, Which way is up? ‘Up’ from Brisbane is a totally different direction from ‘up’ from Jerusalem. Or are we meant to believe that heaven is a place directly above Jerusalem? And if it is, how far away is it? If Jesus took off at the speed of light, he’d only be 2000 light years away by now. That’s not very far in terms of the size of the universe.
The important thing in the Ascension, as in many things in the scriptures, is not whether it literally happened but this: What on earth does it mean?
How do we engage with it today?