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Sermon for Ascension Day
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on Ascension Day, Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ascension Day
May 9, 2013

Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Today is one of the major feast days of the Christian church.  You can tell by the way we celebrate it!   The crowds, the tinsel, the dyed eggs, the angels, the feasts made from traditional recipes and the cookies we bake!  Wow!

No?  Well, maybe not.

Ascension Day is always obscurely on the Thursday between Easter 6 and Easter 7, and like most denominations, we pretty much ignore it.  It remains, nevertheless, an important feast day in the life of the church.

When I was in seminary, I had a wonderful shrine outside my dorm room.  That shrine had some of the finest Christian tacky religious art one will ever find.  For instance, I had a bible - a red-lined bible so the exact words of Jesus which he spoke in King James English were in bright red.  This precious bible was also peppered with actual “photographs”  (guaranteed original and authentic) of Jesus.  I had a blanket that was an exact duplicate of the Shroud of Turin, miraculously also depicting the face of Christ.  I had a genuine gold plastic holy water holder, a bright pink candle of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was half burned (from the head down). Then there was the stunning, huge, goopy, crucifix from Mexico that was the bloodiest, goriest thing you have ever seen.

But my prize possession was a postcard, one of those old-fashioned kinds that changed pictures as you tipped it.  And you guessed it -- it depicted the Ascension.  There was Jesus standing on the ground, his arms out benevolently blessing his disciples, and then you tipped the card and only his feet showed at the top of the card.  

We all took tacky religious art “seriously”  in seminary, knowing that if we could not laugh at what we most deeply believed, then we would somehow not believe it.  Think about it.  It is pretty fantastical -- feet rising, then hanging out of clouds.  But we did believe, enough to laugh at the absurdity of it.  We held a tacky religious art show each year to celebrate.  We served cheap sherry and red punch, as well as Cheese Whiz sprayed from the can onto Ritz crackers.  One of our masterpieces, proudly displayed each year, was an oil painting of a 50‘s-style track house neighborhood, all  “Leave it to Beaver” sweetness, that sported those same feet above the rooftops, hanging out of the clouds. 

It is those feet stuck at the top of the card and the top of the picture that I want to speak to tonight.

Those feet also adorn the ceilings of chapels; they are the subject of icons and other art, and have been for centuries.  We don't really know how to make sense of the words from Scripture, ”He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of sight” or “While he was blessing them he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”  We literalize what it would be to have Jesus bodily taken, and “up” seems the only way to make “the body disappear.”

And the body had to disappear somehow.  Common sense tells us that.  Jesus could not continue to walk the streets of first century Jerusalem because if he did then he would not be available to 21st century Americans, or Europeans or Africans or Asians. The body couldn't remain fixed in time and space, it had to ascend or disappear so that Jesus might continue to do the work he was called to do for all people for all time.

The body presents a problem -- even a body that is not mortal.  He a vampire or zombie, no sinister underpinning to the body leaving.  But how did it happen?  

A resurrected human, now one with God, appearing to those who had known him best in mortality -- in the ways they had known him, like breaking bread or teaching or walking, is testified to in scripture.  How could Jesus transcend time and space if he had any kind of body left on earth at all?  The body had to go.  And humans being human, had to explain it.

So clearly the Ascension happened.  The how it happened, that explanation is probably beyond our comprehension or knowing.  So we get tacky religious art to try to make it comprehensible.

But being who I am, always curious and always trying to find THE answer, I have come, over the years, to  imagine that the Ascension was not at all like those feet rising above tree tops and homes and apartment complexes, higher and higher over the cities and towns, like a balloon that rises and is watched until it is a speck no more.  I just don't see that.

I see it more like bubbles.

Bubbles are real -- shimmery, almost always untouchable.  They, like the balloon, float up, but they do not just disappear into the distance, becoming smaller and smaller.  Instead bubbles melt into the air.  They don’t rise out of sight so much as they are absorbed into the seeming nothingness around them.  They are absorbed by the air.  Their residue sometimes is palpable and sometimes not.

I imagine that is more like what happens with the resurrected body of Christ.  The body faded in transparency, and was absorbed into the air, thus becoming part of the air.  So, I have come to believe, each time we breathe, that resurrected, ascended Jesus becomes part of us, much the way he becomes part of us when we share the eucharistic feast.

Jesus is all around us, in us, through us.  We move through him as we walk.  We take him into our being when we breathe.

I, for one, am glad the body is gone and the feet are not hanging somewhere above us.  I am grateful for the constant presence of Christ in us and around us that is possible because of the Ascension. 

So as you look for the risen Christ, the Ascended Christ, do not look up in hopes of glancing the feet.  Rather, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and look within.  Amen.

Last Published: May 15, 2013 2:53 PM