The other night I went to a dinner party, one of those good feeling affairs where friends linger long into the night. The conversation turned to the miracles we had experienced in our lives. Everyone had a story – of improbable healings, friendly ghosts, unexpected windfalls. As we listened and shared, we were brought again and again to the brink of the mysterious unknown.
It was strangely intimate. The cloth of identity we weave to shield ourselves is formed of stories of our competency, learning, and proficiency. Confronted with the miraculous we can’t proceed in our usual manner. What has happened is beyond us, and so we are vulnerable. We can withdraw from this uncomfortable openness through finding reasonable explanations for what we are hearing. We can go back to the firm ground on which we feel competent – and on which we are alone. Or we can stand in the place of wonder and let it form us into community.
The disciples’ experience with the risen Lord was more extensive and consistent than our experience of miracles usually is. For forty days they were faced again and again with the fact of Jesus’ presence. He could be touched, he ate, he drank, and he opened their minds to the meaning of scripture. But he came and went through locked doors, suddenly appearing and as suddenly disappearing. And then finally he left for good in this event we call the Ascension, which we celebrate today.
We could easily explain away the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. We do not have the concrete experience of meeting him in risen form after his death, and so we could talk about how the longing of the disciples or their cognitive dissonance caused them to create a fiction. But the disciples’ stories, shared through the ages, are meant not for our minds but for our hearts. Our hearts yearn for tales of Resurrection and Ascension because fundamentally we belong to Christ.
We could also – and often do – surround the mystery of Resurrection with theological constructs that effectively take away the immediacy and awe. Talking about atonement can lead to immersion in guilt, which has the terrible side effect of putting us smack in the middle of musings about our competency, learning and proficiency. It’s not about us. It really isn’t.
Today, as we contemplate the final leave taking of Jesus from his disciples, let’s listen to the story with open, childlike hearts. The Ascension is truly a wonder, and it puts us on the brink of mystery at the same time that it confirms us in community. Let us be bound by the story – to Christ and to one another. Let us allow it to open our souls.
Laurie Gudim is an iconographer, writer and spiritual director living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Visit her website, or drop her a note at email@example.com.