Readings for Sunday are here.
This is the painting of the Ascension by Salvador Dali. It is endlessly fascinating to me. Where are the wounds of Jesus? Are his hands showing ecstasy or agony? Who is the woman at the top of the painting? The dove? The sunflower? What is the landscape below?
To me it appears as though Jesus is doing a back dive into the universe. In the lesson from Acts says:
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
I have that same stunned feeling of the followers of Jesus when I look at this painting. What else is one to do after the Ascension but stare in wonder? The followers shake themselves out of their stupor and return to wait for the promised power from on high. They have been with Jesus these 3 years, they saw him executed as a criminal by the Roman state. They saw his willing powerlessness in the face of death, his invitation to the thief on the cross to join him in paradise, and they saw him for these past days in his resurrected state. He has taught them everything possible and promised that there is more to come. It is in their hands and they don't know what it all means.
So they gather and pray and worship and tell the story. It is a time of waiting for something that is unknown. Waiting is not a comfortable place for most of us. We like to be doing, people of action. Sitting is difficult - whether we are waiting for something terrible or something wonderful - it is difficult to watch the time slowly slide by - often feeling like it will never pass. If we are dreading something - we feel like it would almost be better to have it happen than to sit with our anxiety. If it is something wonderful - we have that same sense of wanting it to happen and not wanting it to happen because then it will be over.
In the case of the disciples - the women and men who follow Christ - they don't even know if it will be terrible or wonderful - and it turns out, as we know, to be both.
Hymn 661 in The Hymnal 1972 captures this feeling:
The peace of God it is no peace
but strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing--
the marvelous peace of God.
Denise Levertov writes:
Stretching Himself as if again,
through downpress of dust
upward, soil giving way
to the thread of white, that reaches
for daylight, to open as green
leaf that it is…
not have been
as the return
from Sheol, and
back through the tomb
now must relinquish
as Man –
Eye of Eternity.
Mothering His birth:
torture and bliss.
From The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected poems on religious themes.