For a time before the advent of superhero films, special effects or even aerodynamics, the Ascension must have been truly astonishing.
We’ve all grown up in the era of Superman, Thor, Green Lantern, Iron Man and movie CGI. The idea of Jesus rising bodily into the air is a bit ho-hum. We’ve seen it a thousand times on the big screen. What – not even any bad guys to fight? Yawn. Bo-ring.
Even taken out of the realm of special effects, we’re accustomed to the idea that people can fly. Wilbur and Orville’s accomplishment is old news, so much so that the idea of flying between continents in a thing someone has built is… routine. Before that, the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloons sent people into the air for the first time. The idea of a jetpack isn’t too far-fetched; just a matter of working out the details. We have, as they say, the technology.
But in 30 AD, that was all far in the future. The idea of humans flying was the province of dreamers and magicians; the only things that flew were birds and bats.
And here is Jesus rising bodily into the air. No jetpack, no broomstick. I got no strings on me.
The point is that Jesus’ Ascension would have been completely outside their experience. No wonder they were left standing around gaping into the sky.
Even for us, I suspect it would be rather less humdrum if we saw it with our own eyes in the harsh light of afternoon rather than on a big screen in a darkened cinema. When it’s your Teacher, your boss, your friend whom you’ve known and hung out with on a daily basis for three-plus years.
Even for One who had cleansed lepers, given sight to the blind and raised the dead, this was new territory. Even for the Risen Christ who either walks through walls or teleports from place to place, this is unprecedented. Different from the post-Resurrection now-you-see-Him, now-you-don’t, it provides a finality and closure to the forty days of Appearings. That phase is over. The Son is going into heaven so that the Spirit can be sent.
There are numerous places I could go with an Ascension Day post: the Great Commission. The promise to be with us. “This same Jesus will return in the same way you saw Him go”. But what I wanted to do here is recapture some of the sense of surprised astonishment that those first disciples must have felt.