“Quaint ain’t everything!” thoughts on Ascension, 2017
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Solemnity of Ascension, which we celebrate today, is about location. We hear the story that Jesus is taken up into the clouds. Where is Jesus? Those who wrote this story and so much else about those experiences with the Risen Jesus did not know what we know. They did not know that into the clouds or above the sky was not the limit beyond which is the domain of God. They have given stories that are quaint; but they are stories in need of more advanced knowledge as well as wider and deeper understanding.
This is what we now know. There is no up in relation to down, no out in relation to in, no existence without change – not, at least, where God is concerned. In a universe where moons rotate around planets that in turn rotate around suns that in turn propel solar systems through galaxies, and where universes expand in all directions rather than in one direction – in this universe, we readily see that God is not located anywhere except everywhere. Jesus ascends to become the All in All, the Christ whose humanity realizes the divinity he always was and ever will be. In this expansive way we acknowledge the divine-human relation as one that exists in time and space, yet reaches always beyond and ever within.
The divine-human relation is a wondrous gift and reality. Our knowledge allows us to interpret the quaint stories of faith – rich as they are in imagery, allegory, and truth-telling – as indicators of cosmic happenings. Jesus ascends not out of sight but into a waiting creation.
Lest we get lost in these cosmic wonders, however, we need to look at humanity on earth In particular, this Ascension celebration brings to mind the love of Jesus for his followers. He says he does not leave them orphans but instead promises the Holy Spirit will give them the sight that opens eyes to others’ cares and concerns. Another thing we now know that was not known by those who gave us the stories of Jesus is the power of the machine, of robots with their artificial intelligence.
I have been watching the television series on the National Geographic channel, “Year Million.” I find it a fascinating study in so many ways of that future which sees the blending of human and machine. The human-machine relation, in these eyes, is the Singularity – the assimilation of humanity into robotic bodies. Yes, the human-machine relation is the future of life on earth while the universe expands in all directions.
Just when I thought this idea of singularity – the merging of human and machine – was more sci-fi than real I heard an interesting radio report. The report said that people have had chips inserted into their hands so that they could point their hand to a locked door and it opens. A small fact, but a significant one nonetheless. Where will the end be of the willingness to equip ourselves with artificial intelligence or to equip our machines with human intelligence? Is this the philosopher’s slippery slope?
In the “Year Million” episode optimism shines through by opining that humans of the future will assign their robots to the menial and repetitive tasks leaving all humans free to soar. Pardon me if my view is a bit more jaundiced, or maybe it’s because I spent a number of years working with persons with disabilities. But I can also opine that the less than apt humans will be assigned to such tasks while the precious robots will be “saved” for special work and high value. Where will this human-machine relation take us among humans who wish to escape the mortality of biological humanness? Again, the slippery slope?
Which gets me to the point of moving beyond quaint notions like Jesus covered in a cloud or chipped hands opening locked doors. In the last century Paul Tillich developed a theological system that he called correlation. He meant by it that our relationships to context and culture had to be taken into account in affirming our faith in the God who has put us here. Our life choices became understood through history and made meaningful by applying what we value. A sense of relationship made a lot of sense.
Now, however, I think it’s not the relation but the location that is important. By location I mean that we are in-between the relations of human-divine on the one hand and human-machine on the other. We cannot get lost among the stars in God’s creation such that the valuing of the human person slips from our grasp. We must make our choices from within this in-between location.
The experience of Ascension can help us to act from within this in-between position. We see the cosmic wonder of such innumerable heavenly bodies only to intimately value each created thing – human, plant, animal. We may not allow ourselves to escape into fantasies that says each person “goes it alone” or that we are no more than “mere specks in an Aquarian age.”
Christ is All in All!
The Word of God who encourages, emboldens, and enlivens us.
Ascension Prayer (JR)
Creator of all, for you up is down, out is in, and to exist is to change. In you there is no beyond and no end. Our brother Jesus is your Son who existed before time and in time.
Today we celebrate the Risen Christ who takes us on our journey through the universe while we stand in place. He surprises us with a knowledge that sometimes seems like fantasy. Yet we ascend in faith impressing on ourselves care for your gifts.
Sustain us, nurture us, guide us as we stand in-between divine spirit and human folly – sisters and brothers of the One who is with us in all time and in all space. Amen.