Reflection: by Martin Stewart
At Easter time I was thinking about the view from the cross. Not the landscape – the Lord
was not sight-seeing! The people-scape. Before him, the collective of people at the foot of
the cross – some with their backs to him, others looking for one last miracle, others with
broken faces as they wept their tears. Plus, another whole dimension of seeing: could he
also see past and future from that vantage point?
I like to think that he saw me, and you, from that vantage point. That the crisis of the cross
would one day have an impact, not only on my life, or your life – but that all human
suffering would be caught up in his suffering. And, we would know that we are met by a
God who suffers for us, holds us, serves us, loves us, and blesses us. That was the Friday of
Easter, then came Resurrection Day and hello, this and much much more just might be so!
This Thursday just past was Ascension Day. The 40th day of Easter.
Let me tell you from the outset that I struggle, hugely, with the idea of Jesus rising into the
clouds. I can’t imagine how that even begins to work out, as I don’t think of heaven as up,
for when I point up, a person on the other side of the globe, who is pointing up, has a finger
waving in the opposite direction!
As I said in the Wednesday notes, I confess that I have not had a
great interest in saying much about the ascension over the years. In
thinking about why I haven’t said much is because I have a struggle
finding my way past the depictions of ascension as they were
represented in all the circles, I grew up in. To put it bluntly, there
were far too many unhelpful pictures of a Scandinavian Jesus drifting
up into the clouds for my liking!
However, now that I am a grown up, I’m learning to look at this differently, rather than
literally. And, obviously, I wasn’t there, thus I don’t know what the disciples saw other than
what they have told of what they saw – and how are you really meant to find the language
for something that is impossible to conceive?
But I do accept that the Risen Jesus had to have done something to disappear from the
physical experience people had had of him…he had to drift away from them.
I also accept what the theologians of the church have come to a general consensus on –
that Jesus came from, and returned, to the Godhead somehow, and, that his presence
continues with us in the Spirit, somehow.
In that ‘in the Godhead sense’, Jesus is with us still, but not appearing through locked doors
in upper rooms in Jerusalem, or on the road to Emmaus, or on the banks of the lake at
breakfast time… he had to disappear.
However, the ins and outs of how ascension actually works… well, I really don’t know. We
can’t know. And so we don’t talk about it much.
Ditto with a lot of things, by the way. We don’t know how a lot of things work.
But the hand of Jesus still at work in the life of people tells us that there is more going on
than we can explain. And don’t we have faith enough, to believe enough, that the life of
God is among us enough, and that that seems to be enough, if you know what I mean?
And I am interested in the view.
The view as he ascends.
I wonder, what, as Son of God, he gets to see behind.
Can he see all the way back to the Word that was in the beginning, hovering over the deep
and crying out and bringing the universe into being?
In his ascending, I imagine him being able to see all that way back. Isn’t that quite possible
when you are no longer constrained by the limitations of flesh and blood and time and
I picture him ascending and seeing 40 days back to a tomb, and then before that to an
agonising last cry on the cross, and then across Jerusalem and Judah and Galilee and Egypt
and Babylon, and prophets and kings, and the sea parting, and a burning bush, and Canaan,
and a wandering Aramean hearing a voice speak in the desert, and a flood, and a garden,
and the lands and seas taking form, as what we would call Gondwanaland began to
separate. And let’s dare to go further, as we see stars and galaxies taking form as the
whole universe snaps into life in a crescendo of light. Quite a view!
And I wonder if his whispered ‘Amen’ spoken over those tumultuous millions of years, does
something in that act of rising, to tie the past together to make them one in love as he is
one in God’s three-in-one – an eternal dance of love.
I wonder also what he could see ahead.
If he could see the beginning what would he see as an ending? And, was his ‘Amen’ an
announcement of love over whatever ‘next’ looked like, all the way to the completion of all
I believe it to be so.
I believe we are to understand ourselves caught up in this eternal love.
And thereby picture ourselves seen from the heights of cross and ascension – our
‘particular-ness’ and our ‘part-of-everything-ness’ seen, and valued. All caught up in
Eternal Love: God’s big YES from the beginning to the end, and over everything in between;
even the ugly and the horrible are swept into love in a way that we cannot possible imagine
because we are immersed in the thickness of things, and we have such a limited view of the
We need a vantage point, and where we stand is a way too low, we can’t see the wood for
the trees. Most people can’t see beyond their own troubles, let alone their neighbours, let
alone the good of the whole. We need a vantage point, and so we look to where Jesus is –
ascended – and we find our footing in faith, and hope, and love.
By the way, I think that that footing is sufficient.
We learn to craft our lives in the space where faith and hope and love can work their magic.
‘But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…raised us up
with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…’ Ephesians 2:4,6
‘What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? …It is
Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed
intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? …I am convinced that
neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor
powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ [from Romans 8:31-39]
The view from the clouds
– the beginning, the ending,
and all in between
is held in love.
Now, I have spent quite a lot of time painting a kind of cosmic picture, but to be honest, I
am only really interested in exploring this way of seeing for its earthly usefulness. I think I
come from the school of thought that recognises that some people have their heads in the
clouds and aren’t of much earthly use!
It even might surprise you to hear a minister of the church say that what is beyond me isn’t
really my concern, if it appears to be an escape from reality. But that is how I see things. I
don’t invest in cosmic things in order to avoid reality, or excuse myself from my
I just happen to think that the big picture view ‘from up high’ informs how we can better be
present here. It provides a framework. I get to know ‘how’ and ‘what’ to get about doing
because of the ‘why’.
Thus, if I was an African slave in America seeking to make my way through the day without
giving into despair, I would fasten onto the big hope of the gospel (that the slave-owners
had passed on but entirely missed!): ‘Hold on,’ I would sing, ‘keep your hand on that plough
and hold on!’
And, if I was a child with abusive parents, I would want to know that there is a future
coming, and it will grab me and lift me up.
And if I was in my dying days I would want to know that what I fear is not the full story.
And every day when I wake up, I would want to know that this is the day that love has come
to town and is calling me to join in its song.
I think that is what the ascension means to me – that what comes from God meets us here,
and is lifted back into God,
and its ripples keep being played out in our daily lives in such a way
that we can overcome,
and be turned around,
and the ugly can be made beautiful,
and the light will shine in the darkness,
and the life goes on,
and what we think are dead ends are opportunities,
and God meets us on the road