Tethered to Heaven
Beloved in Christ,
This Thursday, May 13, is the feast of the Ascension. It is an often overlooked feast, despite the fact that it is one of the principal holy days of the church year. When I was a parish priest, we always celebrated with the neighboring Lutheran congregation in downtown Omaha, and it was an occasion to which I always looked forward with great joy. I suspect that part of the reason it doesn't get greater attention is our discomfort with what it commemorates. The Christian faith affirms that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven after his resurrection, and frankly, that's hard for most of us to believe. It is something that is beyond our ability to imagine. What, exactly, did that look like? Rather than push the issue too far, it's easier to just pretend it's not there.
I'll be completely honest and say that, even as someone who is charged with guarding the faith, unity, and discipline of the church, I don't have a good way of explaining it or convincing anyone of its truth. But as a disciple of Jesus and a member of Christ's body, I have decided to live my life as if it were true. Faith is not a concept we are called to understand, but a mystery we are called to encounter, and a relationship that enfolds us. To affirm that Jesus was raised from the dead in an identifiable body, and that he was taken up into heaven bearing that same body, is to affirm that the world we inhabit right now has been, through Jesus, tethered to heaven. It is to affirm that we who have been baptized into Jesus have been tethered to heaven. it is to affirm that the physical world matters, that it has been infused with a sacred importance. It is to affirm that our bodies matter, our planet matters, and when we work to relieve suffering bodies and our suffering planet, we are joining the work of drawing earth more fully toward heaven.
I hope you will find a way to fully embrace and celebrate the strange, bold claim we make when we keep the feast of the Ascension. As one of my favorite hymns, Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise, puts it:
Highest Heaven its Lord receives; Alleluia!
Yet he loves the earth he leaves. Alleluia!
Though returning to his throne, Alleluia!
Still he calls us all his own. Alleluia!
Grace and Peace,
The Right Reverend Craig Loya
Episcopal Church in MN