“Up Through the Atmosphere, Up Where the Air is Clear”
Ascension of Jesus 2022
Luke 24: 46-53
London. 1910. George Banks returns home, 17 Cherry Tree Lane, to learn from his wife, Winifred, that the nanny has resigned. The children, Jane and Michael, have run away, once more. Although soon returned by Constable Jones, who found them chasing a kite, it’s the final straw for the nanny. The next day, Mr. Banks advertises for a serious, no-nonsense nanny. Jane and Michael insist that she be sweet.
Later in the week, several somewhat sour-faced women gather outside the Banks' home for interview, but a strong gust of wind blows them all away. Jane and Michael then witness a lovely woman, a sweet nanny, descending from the sky with umbrella. Mary Poppins. The rest is history. With her magical manner, Mary Poppins renews the Banks’ home-life. In the final song, her work done and time to depart, we hear “up through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear” as Mary Poppins ascends into the sky—with umbrella.
Up through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear…
Is this the Ascension of Jesus?
The scriptures sure seem to suggest so.In (Acts 1 (1-11), we read thatJesus was “lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight”and in our gospel, Luke 24 (44-53), Jesus was “carried up into heaven.” Our mural represents this!The seraphs, described in Isaiah 6 as nearest the throne of God,
with their flame-coloured wings surrounding Jesus’ body, carry him to heaven.
Scripture and Christian art describe a local movement, away from earth. Jesus now “up there.”
Now, each Sunday, we proclaim, as the Church has done for almost 1700 years
in the words of the Nicene Creed, the fact of the Ascension:
“He ascended into heaven (without umbrella!)
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
To say “ascended”, however, does not necessarily mean local movement,
i.e., going from here to “there”.
There is local movement described in the event of the Ascension.
But there is more.
Now, before we consider how the Ascension impacts our lives,
let us ask two questions:
the transcendent Source beyond all things.
Let me “explain”.
Jesus’ body, after the Resurrection, is no longer of this world.
This is why no one initially recognizes Him and why He can walk through walls.
His body was transformed from within by divine love and light.
It is, as we say, a “glorified” body.
The fitting “place” for His body, therefore, is the mystery of God
who “is love” (I John 4:16) and “is light” (I John 1:5).
The fitting “place” is the Father, heaven
--without any of the distance of his earthly pilgrimage.
And why the apparent prejudice against left-handedness?
And why does Jesus need a chair?
Once again: symbolic language rooted in human experience.
One reading of this, taken from my favorite: Saint Thomas Aquinas, 13th century:
The word "sitting" may mean "abiding"… it belongs to Christ to sit at the Father's right hand…inasmuch as He abides eternally unchangeable in the Father's bliss, which is termed His right hand, according to Psalm 15:11, “At Thy right hand are delights even to the end.” Christ dwells at the right hand of the Father: for He is happy and the Father's right hand is the name for His bliss.
We are talking about the happiness of Christ, including in his flesh,
happiness which He shares with us!
In the Ascension, therefore, strange as it may initially sound,
we discover how loved we are, in all that we are.
St. Leo, Bishop of Rome, died in 461, says, regarding the Ascension:
“Not only is the immortality of the soul proclaimed, but also that of the flesh.” Although who I truly am as human being and as child of God
is deeper than that which is bodily,
my body—with its limitations, it skin color, its corpulence or its lankiness, its capacity for reproduction, its pain—is destined for immortality, for glory in Christ.
And so our bodies really matter to God.
I am loved in every corporeal fiber of who I am.
Nothing, therefore, is outside this relationship with our Risen and Ascended Lord.
Jesus is thus not gone, not “way up there”.
Unlike Elvis, Jesus has not left the building.
As the same St. Leo says:
“By ascending, Jesus did not abandon His friends.
Indeed, although His bodily presence is withdrawn,
still, as God, He is ever-present.”
After the Ascension, Jesus is ever-present, more present.
After the Ascension, there is more God in our midst.
Once Jesus is with the Father in His body in this perfect way,
He sends the promise of the Father.
He sends the Holy Spirit, “power from on high.”
Our Triune God is a class act: intensifying presence, increasing love.
Knowing what we do in faith, thanks to the Ascension, we can,
as Saint Augustine invites in a sermon in the early 400s for this special day,
“strive to find rest with Christ in heaven even now,
through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him.”