Here’s something you might not know about me: I like ghost stories. Real ghost stories. Stories like the ones about visitors to Gettysburg who, while traversing the grounds, are suddenly startled by soldiers in Civil War dress...running, shouting, even asking questions of the frightened visitors. I myself tend to be on the skeptical end of the ghosthunting continuum, but it’s interesting to read about people’s haunting experiences and wonder why they happen.
Numerous theories are floating around (so to speak) that attempt to explain these phenomena. Of course the skeptical suggest that ghostly experiences are simply a function of people’s overactive imaginations. Others hold to what I suppose is the traditional view of ghosts as spirits somehow trapped on this earthly plane because of trauma in the last moments of their life or unresolved issues over their lifetimes. There’s one theory out there that emotionally charged situations create a kind of natural hologram that may replay at certain times – this especially speaks to hauntings where the ghost plays out the same scene over and over again, and doesn’t seem to be cognizant of people or surroundings. Then there’s the tantalizing speculation, beloved of science fiction fans everywhere, that for whatever reason there may be places or situations in which the fabric of time flutters like a sheet on a clothesline, briefly overlapping one moment in time with another.
I thought about this today as I re-read the lessons for Ascension Day. We contemporary Christians, at least those of us who aren’t biblical literalists, often have a difficult time making sense of Ascension Day – the popular imagery of Jesus disappearing up into the sky like a comic-book superhero. Our understanding of divinity is more nuanced than that; we don’t believe in a literal Sky God spatially located “up there.” But yet I don’t think we can so easily dismiss this story as theology set to visual metaphor. I’m convinced that the apostles did indeed experience a post-Easter “faith event” involving the risen Christ that transformed and empowered them in a startling, profound way that changed the world forever.
So…where did Jesus go, anyway? (And the facile “He’s with us always” doesn’t count, kids.)
Last night I read an Ascension sermon by the Rev. Luke Bouman on the The Text This Week website. Bouman offers a vision of Christ, not leaving us for a place, but leading the way into the future, just as he always leads the way. It's a future where, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all will be well and all manner of thing will be well; it's a future where we will finally realize, in the words of the writer of Ephesians, the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.
Is it possible that Jesus' post-Resurrection appearances to his friends -- so earthy and real, as real as hands breaking a loaf of bread or the touch of a finger to a wound, yet so fleeting and ethereal -- as well as the moments in which Christ's presence touches us profoundly now -- are his way of wooing us into that future, by bringing us to crossroads in our lives where the now and the not-yet intersect before our eyes? "Come on...this way...follow me."
"Ascension (After Rembrandt)," by Wayne Forte