Text: Luke 24:44-53
As I was doing a little background work on these passages from Luke (and Acts 1:11) earlier this week, one of my favourite resource sights sent me to a blogger who was having a bit of trouble with the idea that Jesus’ Ascension into heaven was actually a real; i.e. physical, event as opposed to some spiritual thing where Jesus the ghost just disappeared. He based his argument on a problem he had with Christians using the preposition “up” to describe wherever it was Jesus went.
Our belief is that Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. His point was that physics has successfully demonstrated that in the universe in which we live there is no up or down. This is particularly true of planets. Planets are round like a ball, there is no “up” on a ball only an “away from”. Therefore, his conclusion was that there was no way we can talk about Jesus’ Ascension knowing what we know now about the universe. I beg to disagree with him. I tend to think that the more we come to know about this universe in which we live at both the cosmic and the sub-atomic levels the more plausible and truly beautiful Jesus’ Ascension becomes.
The thinking of the blogger erred in its narrow-minded-literalness, the same narrow-minded literalness that he accused the church of having in its thinking about heaven being “up”. He never gave another way of understanding Jesus Ascension. Had he done the work of stepping into the Hebrew concepts that the New Testament writers were trying to find Greek words to convey he would have found that “up”-ness in those words are related to worship, of lifting up prayers and burnt offerings. Luke wasn’t trying to say that Jesus went “up” to go to heaven; and we are being narrow-minded if we think heaven is “up”. He was trying to say that Jesus went to God the Father as do prayers and the smoke of burnt offerings. In essence, he was taken up to be enthroned in the heavenly arena of worship which is part of the spectrum of creation. Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, was taken into the part of physical creation the known as heaven where God’s presence first contacts creation and creates the effect the Bible writers call his “glory”; the place where the Father is hidden behind indescribably beautiful light; the place where Jesus the Son sits in the authority of God as High Priest leading the worship of creation and interceding on our behalf and as King sending forth the Holy Spirit to heal, renew, and recreate this diseased and broken creation in accordance with the Gospel. The apostle John and several of the Old Testament prophets describe having seen such a place which telescopes and microscopes are unable. What they saw they understood to be just as real as you and I sitting here; an unseen dimension of creation.
Let’s think about unseen dimensions for a moment. The science off physics tells us that for our universe to exist it there must be ten levels or dimensions to it. Humans are only aware of four: horizontal, vertical, depth or volume, and time. Where are the other seven? The best way to describe how they exist is to think of what happens to cigarette smoke in a room. When it’s fresh off the cigarette we can see it. So these dimensions were at the Big Bang. Yet, the nature of smoke is to dissipate until it permeates the entirety of the room so that even though we cannot see the smoke, we can smell it anywhere in the room. So it is with the other six dimensions, they permeate our existence. That being the case, who is to say that there isn’t an eleventh realm of creation in which it can be described as Paul writes in Colossians. “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 3:15-20). What Paul describes here is a dimension of our reality reflecting its relationship to its Creator something physical science cannot see but theological science certainly can describe because God who appears as hidden to us has and does reveal himself. The ten dimensions of our universe cannot exist apart from its relationship to the Trinity, the eleventh dimension.
Well, I’ve mentioned the word relationship and in the world of physics this means we should talk about forces. A force is a relationship or a capacity in which an object can cause another to change. Think attraction and resistance. Our physical reality as it presently is has four fundamental forces. At the moment of the Big Bang there was only one, but as things began to cool that one force stabilized into four. (Incidentally, there is a growing consensus among physicists that the universe came into being out of nothing. Chalk one up for their being a Creator.) Anyway, these four forces begin with gravity which causes objects to attract from a distance. According to Einstein gravity is like pulling a bed sheet tight by its four corners and setting a bowling ball in the middle it would make a depression causing lighter objects to roll to it. Next there’s the electromagnetic force. That’s the push and pull that happens with electricity and magnets and through light in there as well. Moving on there are two nuclear forces. The weak force is what causes nuclear decay, decay in the nucleus of an atom. Although it is the weakest of the forces, the sun could not burn without it. Finally, there is the strong force. This force is what holds the nucleus of an atom together and is the stuff atomic bombs are made of.
There’s another fundamental force that physics doesn’t deal with because it is biological in nature: life. Things live and grow and procreate. That’s life. Life happens and we haven’t the slightest idea how. Similarly, sentience or consciousness and the ability to have relationships are forces as well and once again, we don’t know the first thing about them. Although the universe could exist without life and sentience, it would be lacking its reason for being.
Let’s talk about a force of a spiritual nature. Our universe and our Creator have a relationship that involves attraction and resistance and change. It is inappropriate to say as some do that God is a force within his creation, but there is force involved here. At our very core we are attracted to our Creator, but sin turns that force into resistance and like a nuclear explosion it causes relational radiation and death. (This would be a good place to say that nuclear weapons are the epitome of human sin.) God the Son became human as Jesus and by taking sin upon himself, dying with it, and being raised set in motion the negation or reversal indeed the healing of our resistance to God restoring the Life-giving relationship we are supposed to have with him as his beloved creatures made in is image. This force is salvation and is powered by God the Holy Spirit. God’s very self, the loving communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is behind it. This force of attraction involves communication, the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus name. This proclamation is also empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Loving communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so that it is God’s very self that is bringing forth or causing salvation. This salvation is evident in repentance which is being drawn in by the attracting love of God in Christ Jesus and learning to live worshipfully meaning prayerfully and gratefully according to the Law of Love. This salvation is experienced as knowing oneself accepted and loved by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit something Paul calls reconciliation. There is a healing that comes from experiencing this which compels us to live life compelled by the force of salvation being proactive about forgiving those who have hurt us, damaged us and making amends with those we know we have hurt. This is life in the name of Jesus.
I challenge you to wrap your mind around this thought that our lives and the totality of this physical universe are wrapped up in the eleventh dimension of relationship with the Trinity through Christ Jesus in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can exist and live apart from this dimension of reality. The science of theology which is rooted in prayer and praise tells this and the day is coming when physical science will demonstrate this as well. Amen.