A colleague posted something about Ascension on social media the other day. While at first glance, what they wrote seemed to be a rather cheeky comment on our current situation, after I thought about it, there was actually a measure of truth in what was said. What they said was this, “Ascension: that time when Jesus started working from home.”
For many of us in this season of COVID-19, working from home has become a way to carry on with our business in less than ideal circumstances. It’s the ultimate Plan B where we say, “things haven’t worked out the way we hoped, so we’ll have to do it this way for now.” For Jesus though, working from home is actually the fulfilment of the Plan. It is not the next best thing. It is the best thing.
NT Wright has interesting things to say about Ascension. As in much of what he writes, Wright believes that it is imperative that we understand the mindset of people in Palestine in the first century in order to come to terms with the significance of things that Jesus did and said. One of the things that is different in that mindset from our own is our understanding of heaven and earth. While we tend to think of earth being what is here and heaven being a place way out there, this was not the case for Jesus’ contemporaries. To them, heaven and earth could be described as spheres of influence that overlapped, and those in the heavenly sphere could influence what happened in the earthly sphere. They also believed that because heaven touched earth in so many places at any given time, that this influence could be much more widespread than if someone was operating out of the earthly sphere alone.
What this means for Jesus is that although he was effective in influencing the world immediately around him while existing only in the earthly sphere, continuing his work in the heavenly sphere would mean he could influence the whole world. Perhaps this is why he taught so much on the Kingdom of Heaven. If his followers could work from an understanding that they had a foot in both spheres, they could become an unstoppable and far reaching force as they continued God’s work in the world.
Wright notes that we have done a pretty good job of making Ascension into something that is difficult to believe. Stained glass depictions of Ascension show Jesus being sucked up into the clouds, or even floating away on them. There is a site on the Mount of Olives where you can visit an ancient Byzantine chapel and see a slab of rock that looks like it has two footprints embedded in it. Legend says that Jesus blasted off from this spot with such force that he left his footprints in the rock. However, such fanciful images are not true to that first century understanding of heaven and earth. Wright encourages us to think of Ascension as Jesus passing from one sphere of influence to the other and that the idea of ascending, or going up, is that Jesus is now in the sphere that can influence our own in its entirety.
The significance of the Ascension is not only to be found in what happened to Jesus. For those of us followers of Jesus who exist mainly in the earthly sphere, the fact that Jesus is now working from the heavenly sphere means that we can do the work that he has called us to do. The body of Christ, the Church throughout the world exists to continue the work and ministry of Jesus in the earthly sphere of influence so that the whole world can embrace the heavenly sphere. We know that we do not do this work on our own for we know that Jesus, the head of the body, is directing us… influencing us, so that the work can reach the ends of the earth.
Jesus is indeed working from home.