Sunday, January 10, 2016

95 Theses, #66-67: The Ascension and What It Means for Theology



To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction

                                                       (Icon of the Ascension, late 15th cent.)


66.) The Ascension - It is worth contemplating what the Ascension means to Christian faith and theology. On the one hand, we must ask why it was that Jesus had to leave. This is a question to which it may not be possible to give a full answer. Perhaps the best answer is that God has always, at every step of his plan, sought to partner with the free will of his creation. In the same way, rather than taking over and doing everything himself to advance the Kingdom of God through history, he has decided to give his people a leading role in that mission, to bring in the firstfruits of the final restoration through the church. This partnership actually seems better accomplished if Jesus empowers his church to do the mission through the consent of their own free will rather than remaining on earth in person in order to accomplish it himself. Another element of the Ascension is the fact that it symbolizes the ultimate glorification of human nature into the eternal presence of the full Trinity, a union of a measure that we cannot fully comprehend. It is the Ascension that makes complete the nascent promise of the Incarnation, that our own human nature can be, and will be, eternally united to God’s own divine energies. A further element mentioned in Scripture is that Christ now stands symbolically as our great high priest, a reminder that we stand clean of sin before God in his own person. Finally, the mode of the Ascension itself—Christ rising into the clouds—need not bear any further symbolism than it is given in the text: that it is an image through which to imagine the way that Christ will return one day. 

67.) The Ascension as Inaugurating a Universal Sacrament in Material Creation - But these ideas do not in themselves answer all the questions raised by the Ascension. We still have Jesus, in a resurrection body that is material/corporeal (but a body that does not seem limited by the normal constraints of space and time), now returning “to the Father”; and the supposition has been that God in his fullness exists beyond normal space and time, but still immanent within it. So where is Christ now? Is he within the physical universe somewhere, since he is in a material body? I would suggest (as a very tentative thought) that perhaps in his Ascension, Jesus was inaugurating the next stage of the new creation, in which not only human nature is restored, but that through human nature, all of creation begins to be restored. What I mean by this is to say that perhaps, just as Christ is the mystical binding of divine nature to human nature, perhaps his Ascension in his resurrection body represents his mystical binding to all of material creation, so that in him, all of creation is taken up into a deeper participation in God than was true even of the basic level of God’s “immanence”. This seems to be the sense of the reality conveyed to us in the Eucharist—that Christ himself is now physically and spiritually present in the material reality of the universe, at least in this specific rite—and certain modern mystics like Teilhard de Chardin have suggested that the entire universe is now a Eucharist because of Christ: he is “in, with, and under” all things. And, going a bit further than that, since the new humanity is united to him in a deeper way than any other aspect of material creation, in that we share human nature with Christ himself, we can hypothesize that Paul’s analogy of “the Body of Christ” might be more than mere symbolism—that Christ is indeed present within the community of the Kingdom in a way that far surpasses his presence anywhere else.

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