The ritual of passing from one state of life to another has great merit.
A lad I spoke to the other day told me of how last week he graduated from cubs to scouts. The scout troupe had organized a small bridge they creatively constructed over the Elwood canal. The cubs stood on one side and the scouts the other. Each in turn the cubs invited to join the scouts was asked to climb the bridge to cross to the other side where they were welcomed as a scout.
Life has many similar experiences of transition. Graduation ceremonies are important to mark an achievement or perhaps an accomplishment that brings about a new status in life
Last week I did make mention of the church entering a few of the most important weeks of the year for Jesus followers. Thursday was Ascension day. Next Sunday will be the feast of Pentecost. I want to suggest we think of the Ascension of Jesus as like a graduation experience, not so much from his perspective, but from our own perspective.
Of course there is a sense of Jesus graduation and the hymns typically sung on this occasion speak of him as Lord, King etc are its important message. But from another perspective there is a sense of graduation for his followers. It doesn’t become clear immediately but it is a vital experience.
It’s like the bridge crossing for the young cub, the moment of crossing from one status to another.
Let’s remind ourselves that Jesus has gathered his followers around him over several years. He’s taught them, walked with them, eaten with them. They have observed him, talked with him and grown to love him. At Easter, a time of transition began.
Dieing he was suddenly taken from their sight. Except for his sporadic unexpected, bewildering appearances. Today we read of the final of these great appearances. His dramatic depiction of rising from their midst as if into the sky was like a ritualized ceremony in which he wanted to emphasise the finality of his life.
But this is the point of greatest challenge to his followers. Jesus has ascended but his followers are left overwhelmed with his absence. They stand there as if spiritually and mentally naked. They have nothing left of their fledgling faith.
Who hasn’t at some point, no doubt many times, wondered where was God. His absence is painfully overwhelming. We could easily pray the prayer of Jesus, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me.’ Forsakenness is a grim state of affair for any one.
History has shown that despite its unpleasantness it is a vital experience for the spiritual seeker. For the worst of such experiences, St. John of the Cross made famous the term, the dark night of the cross.
We might ask, ‘Why is it such a significant experience? When we stand in life with the sense that we have lost everything. That there is nothing that really brings us meaning we are left with one thing.
No part of creation, no sense of God, but alone just ourself. The absence of God confronts us with the rawness of our existence. This is what we have, and it presents us with the most fundamental of questions.
Where is God?
There is only one answer. God is within. No longer do we trust in the historical Jesus. He has stood back. He challenges us to embrace our new status. Jesus the historical man of Galilee has transitioned into the divine reality of the universal Christ. And as such he is found within us.
In the depth of our soul, in the intimacy of relationships, we are the Christ.
THE BRIDGE OF TRANSFORMATION
This experience of the ascension...is the great moment of transition. It is the threshold of our true identity. The bridge of transformation. In Jesus words, I must depart that the spirit may come. Our spiritual journey is about to mature.