The Essential Ascension (2): Home-Maker
No 2. In a series of posts reflecting on Jesus' Ascension
It’s been a few weeks since my last post, when I started reflecting on Jesus’ Ascension. And I guess, quite a lot has happened in the meantime…
Whatever you’re feeling about recent events, the ascension is a powerful reminder that Jesus is still on the throne as the executive director of the universe on behalf of his people.
But there’s even more encouragement in the fact that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Although we might not immediately spot it, one of the biggest challenges the Covid pandemic has brought home, is the challenge of home. Or rather, the challenge of what and where home is. Social distancing, and self-isolation have become part of our everyday vocabulary, and we have found ourselves in increasingly semi-fractured communities. Sometimes we can’t see one another at all, and even when we can, we long for it to be different, more complete and less diminished.
Then, lockdown comes along and once again our homes, which we tend to idealise (and even idolise?) as sanctuaries away from the bustle of life, become the venue for our whole lives themselves. For some, home can even begin to feel like somewhere to be trapped in, rather than somewhere to escape to. Somehow, sanctuary becomes confinement.
But if we can’t feel at home when we’re at home, can home really be home at all?
That’s a disconcerting question, but actually, it isn’t very new. Coronavirus didn’t create these dynamics. All it has done is turn up the volume from one particular perspective.
In essence, all of us, even the most solitary and independent, longs to belong. It’s been wired into us from the moment of our creation. We’re made to fit in, to feel at home, to feel like life ‘works.’ Yet so much about this world, coronavirus or otherwise, tells us that we aren’t at home.
Why else would we be so unyielding in our insistence that life in our society must be improved, when in so many ways and according to so many objective measures, we are living in one of the most privileged times in history; with more equality, more freedom, less poverty and less disease than any previous century? Just what are we comparing life to when we say it needs to get better? Certainly not a life any of us have actually experienced.
Just this week one of my kids was complaining that life never feels like it’s going quite as he’d want. They may be small, but there are inevitable frustrations even when things are good. This time, another thing he was looking forward to had been cancelled, but then again, even if it had gone ahead, he still senses enemies everywhere, from boredom, to falling out with a friend or sibling, to the frustrations of family chores(!).
“I just never feel I’m where I’m meant to be,” he said.
He might not have known it, but he was expressing that deep homesickness in every human heart. As Julian Barnes famously put it, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”
Where, after all, is the end of frustration, boredom, fallings out with those we love? Where is the end of inequality and poverty? Where, for that matter, is the end of fractured community, or of feeling like we don’t quite belong?
It may surprise you, but for an answer we should look to the ascension. Again!
Do you ever wonder what the ascended Jesus is doing now? Perhaps you’d answer, ‘we don’t need to. We know: He’s sitting!” Which is true. Most fundamentally, the ascended Jesus is ruling at God’s right hand as his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. But there’s more.
He’s also preparing a place. That’s the wonderful, heart-bursting promise he made to his disciples:
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
That’s quite the image isn’t it? Think of a luxury hotel. Think of all the work put in to prepare the rooms for the guests to arrive. Everything thoroughly cleaned. Then all the arrangements made, so that everything is just so. All the finishing touches which mark it out as a special place to stay. That’s a glimpse of the imagery Jesus is using here.
Except he’s not talking about a hotel is he? He’s talking about a home. There are no paying guests on view here. It’s astonishing to think of it, but when Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he wasn’t just taking his throne as rightful ruler of the universe. He was also going to prepare a place for his people in his Father’s house.
In other words, he was going home as a home-maker for us!
As we head back into lockdown, perhaps we feel like we’re taking 2 steps forward and even 2 steps back. Perhaps we feel further away from our loved ones. Perhaps we feel as though our communities are fracturing even more.
In all that, we can remember where Jesus is right now. He died in our place, he rose that we might live, and he ascended to prepare a place for all who would follow him.
So that they—so that we who trust in him—could be called onwards to glory. Onwards to home.