The Gospel of Luke recounts the ascension of Jesus stating that “he withdrew” from his disciples and “was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24: 52). Mark goes into slightly more detail. “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16: 19). These quotes from Luke and Mark depict Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, following his resurrection, and the taking up of his place at the right hand of God the Father in paradise. This ends the Gospel narrative and also appears in Acts 1: 1-11 to begin the narrative of the Early Church. This text indicates to the Christian that there is an after-life where the resurrected go; additionally, it intimates that Jesus now shares a relationship with God as an equal – the Son of God now sits beside his Father to rule the Cosmos and guide humankind in its endeavour to spread the Gospel. When interpreted symbolically, the ascension communicates even richer meaning for those of us who remain in the world.
The symbol of a God-man ascending to his Heavenly throne implies the indestructible nature of life itself. A man brutally tortured, battered and mercilessly slaughtered by his enemies is transmuted into an ethereal presence personifying life triumphing over death. Or, one could say death transformed into life. The ascension embodies the idea that nothing really dies but rather, is transformed and returns to its source. This holds powerful meaning and provides comfort for us at a time when the powers of destruction and death appear to be gaining the upper hand in the world.
War in the Ukraine, COVID and, more recently, the floods that have ravaged so many Australian communities, foregrounds human suffering and misery in the minds of many. The world appears to be going through a “passion” phase in which the mystical Christ is being crucified anew in those who suffer. However, let us not lose hope for the same Christ who is being crucified in those who suffer will rise again through them and be reunited with God. Christ will rise again in those who hold fast to the Gospel imperative to love rather than to hate, to give rather than to take and to forgive rather than to condemn. By so doing, heaven will be brought just that little bit closer to earth. Those who glimpse in us something of the Christ nature, when we are living well, will be “witnesses of these things” (Luke 24: 49). Like Christ, they will be invited to sit at God’s right hand by sitting beside the one who suffers.