Writing this at Eastertide reminds me of a scene in the film 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' (the one where John Wayne as the centurion at the crucifixion immortally drawls the words 'Truly this was the Son of God' as only he could). The disciples have fled from the crucifixion and stand beside the Sea of Galilee. A stone is thrown into the water and the ripples flow silently outwards in circles, graphically showing their sense of helpless despair and confusion. It is memorable in its understatement.
May 2022 marks part of this six week period where the disciples seem to be in limbo. Jesus was still alive but His ministry with them is clearly in transition; we know so little of what happened in those days, but then at the Ascension Jesus parts from them (we mark it this year on Thursday 26th May). The way is then set for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and the start of all that follows.
We speak of Jesus in terms of ascending into heaven, just as we speak of Him rising again from the dead. We use the word because we have no alternative. Going up is the alternative to going downwards or sideways; they are as much about the spirit of their direction as their physicality, the direction as much of why it took place as how it took place. Just as Jesus physically died and rose again, so He left this earth physically in some way that we do not understand. In both cases the meaning of the events speaks as well as what actually happened.
For us this represents a problem, summed up by the first astronaut, the good Communist Yuri Gagarin. When he reached orbit it is said that he radioed that now he could prove that God did not exist because he had gone up and there was no heaven to be seen. One of the problems lies in the conflict between religion and the way we are trained to think. Everything today has to add up, to be rationalised, to be logical. Religion however speaks of faith. So we must convince the world of something that we cannot prove and cannot understand. How could Christ (as God made man) physically die and physically rise again? How could He leave this earth alive into that state which we call heaven (whatever that is)? April and May seem full of confusion and mystery and while it is arguably the most beautiful month of the year it is also perplexing for those who believe (or try to believe).
Or is it? During these warm summer months I may be found on our swing seat on a dark evening, gazing up into the sky - and pondering. What lies beyond what I can see? Does space go on for ever and if not what lies beyond it? This to me is the start of an exploration into faith. Because I cannot understand what lies beyond what I am looking at, it does not mean that it does not exist; it tells me that my mind has human limitations. It recognises that fact is not the answer to everything and we have to accept that such limitations exist. My favourite passage of the Bible is the closing chapters of the Book of Job. Job has been seeking answers to what has happened to Him with ever growing intensity. Suddenly the Lord answers Job out of a whirlwind, claiming the right to be mysterious and not to answer Job's questions. The book closes with Job finding peace in not having answers, that he must love and believe.
With my very best wishes - Paul