May 28, 2017
The original Star Wars movie is 40 years old this week.
I was in junior high when it first came out.
Everyone was talking about it
and so even though I didn’t see it that first opening,
it wasn’t long before I knew all about Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker,
and R2D2 and C3PO.
Humanity has always been fascinated by the stars…
By ‘what’s out there,’ beyond the naked eye…
By outer space.
George Lucas’ special effects captured our imaginations,
and John Williams’ score captured our emotions,
as together we were taken to a galaxy far far away.
For those of us who have seen Star Wars and its prequels and sequels,
it seems a bit odd to hear how Luke tells the story of the Ascension –
of Jesus taken up into the clouds, taken beyond the stars.
For those of us who have flown up and over the clouds;
For those of us who have seen images of the planet earth from space;
For those of us who have watched space shuttles launch,
and followed the work at the international space station,
and imagined ourselves taking a tourist trip into space someday…
the story of the Ascension seems odd.
Where did he go?
At the time of Luke, the universe was thought to have 3 tiers:
There was the earth, the sea, and the heavens.
The earth was thought to be a disc,
held up on pillars and surrounded by the sea.
Beyond this were the lower heavens
which held the sun and stars and planets.
And then there were the upper heavens – “highest heavens”
which was the dwelling place of God – (or the gods).
“Glory to God in the highest heaven.”
Over the centuries,
the church hasn’t always been on board to accept new astronomical discoveries
which challenged this arrangement.
Galileo was condemned as a heretic,
for suggesting the earth revolved around the sun.
Martin Luther, not typically a biblical literalist,
calls Copernicus a fool based on a passage from the book of Joshua.
In one of his Table Talk conversations –
conversations held around the dinner meal and recorded by his students –
“There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, …But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, ..! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, … Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”[i]
A challenge on Ascension Day in a post Stars Wars world,
Is what to make of this story –
what to celebrate on this festival –
if we don’t take it literally.
There are deeper meanings here.
Deeper meanings than “where did he go?”
One of these deeper meanings I think is that God cannot be limited.
If Jesus is no longer here – Jesus is everywhere.
The Ascension decentralizes Christianity.
Christianity is not tied to a particular holy place.
In some faiths, there is a holy place tied to a leader
Who lived or was buried there.[ii]
Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times/year.
Later, Muslims made pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
When Christianity made attempts to centralize,
It did not end well.
Attempts to “take back the Holy Land…”
led to the Crusades.
A message of Ascension is that there is no particular holy land…
Jesus is no longer here – Jesus is everywhere.
We need to celebrate Ascension because we all have a tendency to try to limit God.
We try to limit God to how we experience and understand God.
Richard Rohr tells a story of an Irish missionary in Tanzania
who was trying to teach the Maasai people about the Catholic sacraments.
This missionary said that a sacrament is a physical encounter or event
in which you experience grace or “the holy.”
The people were then confused and disappointed when they were told
there were only seven such moments
(and all of these just happened to include a priest.)
One Maasai elder raised his hand said, “We would have thought, Father,
there would be at least seven thousand such moments,
not just seven.”
We all have a tendency to try to limit God.
We try to limit God to how we as Lutherans or Catholics or Muslims
The gift of Jesus’ ascension
Is that none of us can claim Jesus entirely as our own.
Jesus is not here – Jesus is everywhere.
There’s a chapel in England which has a statue of the Ascension.
It’s not your typical statue, though.
In the ceiling of the worship space,
there are just two feet dangling….Jesus’ feet as he’s ascending to heaven.
“Why are you standing gazing into heaven?”
The men in white robes say.
“Why are you looking at his feet?”
He is not here.
He is everywhere.