Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This is our collect, prayer for today, because today, forty days after Easter Day, is Ascension Day on the church calendar. It’s a fantastic event that has been the subject of much pious art over the years, mostly through the middle ages with paintings that are described as "the disappearing feet,"
but even into the twentieth century with this startling work by Salvador Dali.
In our less pious and more daring age, the ascension has also been the basis of light humor.
Luke the Evangelist may have received the ascension as oral tradition in the budding Christian Church, although if that’s the case it’s hard to understand why it only appears in Luke’s writings among the canonical books. It could be especially difficult to see why there’s no mention of ascension at the end of chapter 28 of Matthew, who might be expected to envision Christ as far beyond Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5f), and Elijah (2nd Kings 2:11).
Luke told the story, described the event, in Luke 24 and Acts 1. He was living and writing in an age that may have seen nothing incredible about a physical body lifted into the clouds of heaven in plain sight of witnesses. Also, Luke was writing for “Theophilus,” whom scholars have never been able to identify. Theophilus may have been a Greek accustomed to mythological stories of divine acts.
In our day and age when we ride far above the clouds, rocket to the moon and back, send the Hubble Telescope to gaze into the deepest darkness of the universe, see its infinite vastness and visualize its beginnings, the story of the Ascension of Christ can stretch credence. But it was not a stretch for Luke, who begins his story with visits of angels. I’m going with Luke this morning. All I have to do is close my eyes and let the Holy Spirit stir my imagination.