Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age – Matthew 28
JESUS DIDN’T SPEND a lot of time with his head in the clouds. He was a man, we might say today, who “had his feet firmly on the ground”. He was a man who commissioned disciples – learners – to wholly practical and diverse ministries here in this world. Today he might say “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly use”, or “don’t stand praying on street corners so that people can admire (or despise!) your praying. Rather, be the prayer!”
So if it’s required that I, or anybody, become too absorbed in the story of a man becoming a sort of ghostly sky-rocket on this, the Feast of the Ascension, we miss the depth of the myth. And the depth of the myth, it seems to me, points to the Christ-likeness, the Anointed-likeness of God that was patently present in Jesus, which presence, Jesus constantly suggested, was and is and will be present in all created things. The Christ-likeness of God, the Anointed-likeness of God, would be with our humankind “until the end of the age”. Forever. Always. No avoiding God, anymore than one can avoid the Life, the “anointing”, that flows from God.
Long ago I found reason to be profoundly thankful for the late and great Archbishop William Temple of Canterbury who died, greatly mourned, in 1944. In his Readings in St John’s Gospel the archbishop wrote
He is here now
In the days of his earthly ministry,
only those could speak to Jesus
who came where he was.
If he was in Galilee,
they could not find him in Jerusalem;
if he was in Jerusalem,
they could not find him in Galilee.
But his Ascension means that he is perfectly
united with God;
we are with him wherever we are present to God;
and that is everywhere and always.
Because he is ‘in heaven’, he is everywhere on earth;
because he is ascended, he is here now.
And James Brabazon, in The Turin Shroud, reflected
This is man
They say he will judge me. I’m convinced.
I am judged already. I stand before him, knowing
that like each man I am my own disaster.
He knows I know. He will be merciful.
This man looks like all that I ask of God –
I can call him both me and master.