Thursday, May 25, 2017
Monday, the 22nd May 2017 night in Manchester, witnessed one of the horrific incidents of terror attack which costed the lives of 22 people, leaving about 60 people seriously injured. The city and her citizens who are still reeling under deep shock, came forward openly to stand in support of one another irrespective of religious identities, offering solidarity and sharing love with one another, sending a message that ‘collectively we shall overcome hatred and embrace love.’ On one hand there are broken bodies, and on the other there is a body of love formed and performed in this after-math.
At the back-drop this incident, the Christian Church as part of their liturgical calendar are observing Ascension Day today, which is the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, after appearing and eating with his disciples for forty days’ post-resurrection. In the context of fear, terror, violence, broken bodies, disappeared bodies and anxiety, how do we understand Ascension of Jesus Christ for our times today?
On the one hand, Ascension of Jesus Christ has been viewed by most Christians as an event outside of Jesus’ life and mission, for this is an incident happened post-resurrection, an after-life event of Jesus. On the other hand, on most occasions and by many Christians Ascension of Jesus has been limited as an act related to Jesus’ divinity, like that of his transfiguration and resurrection, and compartmentalised the activities of human Jesus and of divine Jesus. Such distinctions have diluted and compromised the wholistic understanding of Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ incarnation, his life & ministry, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his Parousia are all integral part and parcel of Jesus mission, and no one aspect of his mission be treated in isolation. All aspects of Jesus’ mission are inter-related to one another, for every event in Jesus mission is sequential and consequential to the other. The very act of Jesus’ ascending into heaven, as Douglas Farrow observes, “is the proper outcome of his messianic career”, for as a messiah Jesus accomplishes his mission and ascends as a messiah into heavens. Such an understanding helps us to understand that life is integral and any dichotomy of human person is dubious and devious.
Allow me to share two points on this reflections on Ascension.
1. Ascension: A Bodily Jesus Ascends into Heavens
The early Church and the then Jewish communities were familiar with stories of ascensions into heaven, from the lives of Enoch, Elijah who were taken up into heaven. It was also believed that emperor Augustus, was also witnessed to be ascended into heavens, and there was an ample evidence of familiarity on this event to people then. However, in defiance to Roman empire’s unjust criminal crucifixion, God raised Jesus from death, proclaiming hope of new life to all those that undergo such unjust trials and executions. Post-resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples in his body, for Thomas could touch and feel his body, ate with them in his body, and in this instance ascended into heaven in his body. The broken & crucified body of Jesus was resurrected in his body and was flourished in body as he ascended into heavens. The material broken-crucified-risen body now ascends into heaven, for the broken body becomes the site of a transfigured body, seating at the right hand of the Father of the holy Trinity.
The logic of empire, which is demonstrated by violence wants to destroy bodies by killings, scatter bodies through terror acts, crucify bodies by unjust crucifixions, disappear bodies by torture, and disintegrate the bio-politics of life. In contrast to this, the love of Trinity receives and embraces bodies into their fold, and the ascension of a bodily Jesus is a foretaste to such a reception of material body. Those that are embraced by the love of Trinity, are called to receive the broken-hearted and partake in the healing of their broken bodies.
2. Ascension: Descent & Disciple
In Acts 1: 1-11, the episode where Luke records the ascension of Jesus Christ, after Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples were struck staring at this spectacle of amazement. “When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (9-11V) Ascension was a wake-up call to his disciples to not get struck with this gazing, but to keep waiting and watching for the descent of Christ, where he comes to judge both the living and the dead. Farrow, proposes that the power of Spirit is left with the eucharistic assembly, for as they receive the body of Christ, they become the body of Christ, for ascension is ensured to all such bodies of materiality. Discipleship calls for a continuation of Christ’s work in ensuring justice and peace, liberating the bio-political bodies towards transformation into a new creation. Discipleship is attending to the ‘bare life’ of our context, and striving for the bodily liberation to all bonded by torture and violence.
Ascension of Jesus Christ invites us to a costly discipleship of addressing the wholistic needs of the people, which is their bodies, souls and minds. In the context of violence and terror, the broken body of Christ, should come forward in healing the broken bodies of the community, and resisting all forms of evil that destroy life. Life, in the sense of bio-political life belongs to God, and any attempt to disrupt and destroy such a life is against God’s will, and discipleship is to work towards that will of God.
Rev. Rajbharat Patta,
Thursday, 25th May 2017
Pic courtesy: http://liturgy.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Ascension-Jesusmafa.jpg