6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
What I Am Learning:
The ascension is one of the key parts of the story of Jesus, but it is often neglected. This happens, in part, because it seems kind of odd. We can more easily see the possible meanings Jesus birth, his flight to Egypt, his baptism by John at the Jordan river, his arrest, death and resurrection. But this story seems a bit obscure.
In the seventh chapter of Daniel, the truly human one comes down from the throne of God in the clouds, establishes peace, and together with all the other human ones lives in peace forever.
13As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
27 The kingship and dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
In the first passage, the truly human one is given authority to create peace in the world by the Ancient One. In the second, the truly human one shares that authority with other human beings, who would, doubtlessly, share it with others.
This was an immensely powerful passage in a time when the People of Israel were under occupation by other kingdoms. It was a vision of the inherent dignity and calling of the People of Israel to be a blessing to all nations that saw their current situation under occupation as a temporary situation. Their occupation was not in alignment with the will of Ancient One who desires people to live in peace and equity with one another.
Daniel envisions these occupying nations as "beasts." This is not to say that the people themselves were beasts. Rather that the cultural system or worldview of those nations were beastly. I tend to call these kinds of worldviews as domination cultures: a vision of human beings in which humans are to seek power over others. These kind of bullying, exploitative and colonial cultures are truly beasts, and lead humans who are captivated by them to behave in beastly ways.
Again, living by a vision of a domination culture, Daniel implies, is not God's will, not the way it has to be, is not inevitable and is not true to the image of God in which we were created.
Daniel's vision invited them to see that they did not have to succumb to the beastly vision of domination over overs, but could live into who they were created to be. This vision called them to abide by the deep truth of the universe despite whatever domination nightmare was imposed on them for the time being.
In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus is often called "the Son of Man." This is a translation of what Daniel calls "the one like a human being." Walter Wink, a Biblical Scholar and peacemaker, translated this phrase "truly human one." Jesus is the truly human one.
The resurrection of Jesus was a validation of Jesus' nonviolent approach to bringing healing and wholeness to his people under Roman occupation. The story of the ascension tells us that Jesus' life reflects the character of God.
Now the Romans and the other beastly nations had their vision of god too. They proposed that the true nature of the world was a dog-eat-dog, domination world. To be smart and truly human is to be the best at dominating others because this is the way the gods were, the way the universe truly is.
Luke is trying to tell us that to be a Christian is to live by and in a vision of reality in which all humans rule together in peace, mutuality and equity AND that the way we get there is through loving our neighbors in public, even those captivated by beastly visions. This is a vision of power with each other, not power over each other.
Jesus ascends to the Ancient One as a way to say that the this way of having power with each other is God's true vision - and thus the true nature of the universe and the true fulfillment of who we are.
When the disciples devoted themselves to prayer, they were giving themselves time to let God's vision for the world sink deep into them, so they could live in the world as it was and prepare for the world as it will be. The fact that women were in the room with them, in such a patriarchal society, was a sign that they were already living into God's vision.
Spiritual practices are a way for us to take time to let God's vision for us and the universe sink deep into our being, so we can live in the world as it is without losing who we truly are - who God is making us to be.
In the Christian tradition, we understand that in baptism we are joined into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - the truly human one. In baptism we are restored to our true identity as one of the truly human ones - beloved, accepted and invited to join Jesus in the healing and creation of the world.
I encourage you to look at our newly edited spiritual practices cards for examples of how you can let this reality sink deep in to you. You can find these practices toward the bottom of the page here: http://catacombchurches.org/three-disciplines-of-jesus/spiritual-practices/