Ascension Day

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Ascension Day

Acts 1:1-11Psalm 47; D&C 88:6

The Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ descended below all things and ascended above all things that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to see that he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Filmed versions of the Ascension tend to be badly done. The New Testament tells us that “as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 10-11). The literal image of Jesus ascending into the sky may well reflect what happened, but expressing this in art runs the danger of overly reifying what was essentially a mystical experience. One also runs the danger of farce: on his way to heaven, how did Jesus escape the atmosphere? Where is heaven? Is a resurrected body capable of flying? In space? How did he generate lift? Silly.

The BBC/HBO Passion sensibly avoids all this by simply having the ascending Jesus disappear into a crowd in Jerusalem. He is gone but he is also all of us. 

What the writer of Luke-Acts is attempting to do is situate the Ascension in Jewish tradition. Jesus is at once a new Elijah; a high priest gone to make an offering in the heavenly temple; and the One to be enthroned at the right hand of God. I am struck by the mention of the cloud that “took him out of their sight,” certainly an allusion to Daniel 7 and the prophecy of the one like the son of man who comes with the “clouds of heaven.” This is now a Jesus behind a cloudy veil; from the Ascension onwards, Jesus is now a Jesus of faith and not of sight.

The earthly ministry of Jesus is now over (although Mormons may spend a moment to reflect on the appearance to the Nephites and others). He that “descended below all things” has now “ascended up on high”; from high and low, Jesus has “comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth” (D&C 88:6).

Comments

  1. Speaking of literal imagery, some churches in southern Germany, Austria and German-speaking Italy have a long tradition of recreating Christ’s ascension to heaven by heaving a statue through the Holy Ghost Hole in the ceiling.