The Ascension was yesterday; class was over for the year a couple of weeks ago, so we covered it early. Although the Ascension is observed in the Church as an event, in class it’s presented more as the last step in a process. Reading from Acts 1, the Ascension seems like an abrupt departure:
“So when they had come together…He said to them, “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Boom, gone, just like that…hey, hey, wait a minute, we didn’t get to say goodbye! But relating the Ascension to the 40 preceding days expands its significance, even as far as the Book of Revelations.
The following are edited passages covering all the other recorded occasions that Jesus appeared to people during the 40 days. It’s not much, if you think about it. In class I will read bits of these, paraphrase them, or make them part of the storyline, but there’s no need to deal with them all.
Mary & Mary run into Jesus, whom they recognize. Later Jesus appears to the apostles: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
“he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” Then: “After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”
“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Later that same day: “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.”
Still later on that day: “Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit….And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have…. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them….Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.”
“Mary Magdalene…turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus…(She supposed him to be the gardener) Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-boni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father…”
“On the evening…the doors being shut where the disciples were,…Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”
“Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”
“Simon Peter [and other disciples] were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”…They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
How the Ascension works in class:
“Hey y’all, 40 days after Easter, what happens? Umm…Pentecost Sunday? Close, Pentecost is Greek for 50; that’s 50 days after Easter…’pente’ means five, like pentagon. What happened after 40 days…c’mon, what happened at Easter? Jesus rose from the dead! Yes, and then for 40 days he appeared to different people at different times and places. Then what? He went to Disney World? Ha! He went up to heaven! Yes, he ascended…what’s the name for that? The Ascension. Yes.
“We’re going to learn about the Ascension, but first let’s look at Jesus during the 40 days. Remember on Good Friday, what happened? Jesus died on the cross. Yes, he was dead. Totally dead, not sorta dead, or nearly dead. Completely alive on Thursday; completely dead on Friday. And then on Easter he rose from the dead, much to everyone’s surprise. Completely dead on Saturday; completely alive on Sunday! But the Risen Jesus, the new Jesus, wasn’t like the old Jesus: chewing out Pharisees, driving out demons, knocking over tables, drawing crowds. For example on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene ran into Jesus outside the tomb, and she thought he was the gardener…the gardener? He must’ve looked awful different! But she recognized him after he spoke to her. She was going to hug him, I think, but Jesus said “don’t touch me, I haven’t yet ascended to the Father.” Don’t touch me?
“Later on Jesus runs into two apostles on a road. They talk and walk with Jesus for a long time, and don’t recognize him until dinnertime; as soon as they recognize him, he disappears!
“On two occasions the Apostles were more or less hiding in the upper room, with the door shut. Each time, Jesus appears among them without coming through the door, and apparently leaves without going through the door.
“Sometimes Jesus eats; sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he doesn’t want to be touched, as Mary Magdalene learned; but what did Jesus tell Thomas to do? Stick your fingers in the holes! Yes! Sometimes he’s here, then vanishes, then he’s somewhere else. People have no idea when or where Jesus’ll be or how long he’ll stay if he does. Sometimes he says important things; other times he hardly makes a peep.
“Trick question: on Easter, when Jesus vanished from the two apostles…where’d he go? Umm, heaven? Yes. Remember Adam & Eve in Eden: sick? No! Old? No! Eat meat? No! Hang out with God the Father all day? Yes! What messed up this good deal? Sin! Yes. Now, before the Resurrection, could Jesus get sick? Yes! Get old? Yes! Die? Yes! Good. Trick question…was Jesus a sinner? No! So how come he could have bad stuff happen to him? No guesses? Go back to Eden: in Eden could a lamb get eaten by a lion? No! How about after Eden? Yes! Did the lamb become a sinner, and so that’s why it could get eaten, get sick, and die? Ha, no, animals can’t sin. So why did bad stuff happen to animals? ‘Cause Adam & Eve messed everything up? Yes, the whole world suffered because of sin. So why did bad stuff happen to Jesus? Well ’cause he was in the world? Yes. Even the innocent suffer. How about after he rose again; could bad stuff still happen to Jesus? Ummm…no? Right, why not? Well, he had risen from the dead. Yes, so? OK, if we die in a state of grace, where do we go? Heaven. Yes, our souls go to heaven; our bodies go…into the ground! Yes. When Jesus died on the cross, where’d his soul go? Heaven? Yes, he opened heaven. But Jesus’ soul couldn’t just stay in heaven while his body decomposed in the tomb. Why not? Umm, he had to show people he was God? Yes. When Jesus rose physically, he showed that all that stuff he’d been saying for the last 3 years was true. But his glorified body was different…y’all guessed right that he couldn’t get sick, grow old or any of that. Who does that sound like: no sickness, no growing old, no death…? Adam and Eve? Yes, in Eden. So Jesus’ risen body is free from the bad things that come from sin. But even though he’s risen, he’s still in the sinful world. If your body and soul are free from sin, where should you be? Heaven? Yes, and that’s where Jesus wants to be, just like we would, but he has to tie up some loose ends. He appears to a few people (especially Thomas) so they can be sure he really rose from the dead; he eats a little food so they see he’s not a ghost; Jesus shows the Apostles how the Old Testament is full of things about himself; and he gives them an extra dose of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus doesn’t stick around more than necessary. Living in the sinful, fallen world just isn’t comfortable if you should be in heaven; it’s not normal. Jesus doesn’t want to get very involved in the world like he used to, it’s not his home anymore. He just lingers a bit here and there….he’s disengaged, that’s a good word for y’all to learn. Remember Jesus told Mary Magdalene right after he’d risen, “don’t touch me, I haven’t yet ascended to the Father.” He wasn’t used to his glorified body yet, and didn’t want to be touched by the sinful world; he just wanted to be in heaven. Later on, he let Thomas touch him, but I imagine Jesus had to prepare himself for that. So during the forty days, most of the time he seems to be in heaven, and visits Earth only as required. Jesus exists between heaven and earth, he appears and disappears, but he’s not a ghost. Remind me about ‘forty days,’ please. It means a long time. Yes, a long time of what? Preparation! Yes. So this 40 days is about Jesus preparing to do what? Umm, stay in heaven? Yes, where he belongs.
“Once Jesus’ work was all done, he ascended to his Father, just like he had said to Mary Magdalene 40 days earlier on Easter morning. But he didn’t just abandon the Apostles. Let’s listen to what Jesus told them: “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” And the Apostles just stood there looking at the sky….now what?
“Ever since Good Friday, the Apostles were at loose ends. For three years they’d had a job..what was it? Umm…helping Jesus? Yes, great answer! But then Jesus was killed, and they were scared and depressed. And when Jesus was alive again, I’m sure it was wonderful, but the Apostles weren’t getting any direction from Jesus on the occasions that he’d appear to them. They hung out in the upper room; sometimes they’d go fish like they used to, before they knew Jesus. Forty days of twiddling their thumbs. But when Jesus ascended, he told them the Holy Spirit would come upon them. When did that happen? No guesses? How long was Jesus on Earth after Easter? 40 days. Yes, and what happened 50 days after Easter? Somebody said it earlier….comes from the Greek word for 50..P-E-N… Oh, Pentecost! Yes what was that? The Holy Spirit was fire on their heads! Yes. The Holy Spirit got the Apostles fired up about their new job: setting up the Church.
“We’ll look at how they did that in Acts of the Apostles, but not tonight. See y’all next week!”
Look at that resurrected Jesus at the top of the page by Sister Mary Grace Thul…if you had a glorified body, would you want to be hanging around on Earth being poked at by the likes of Thomas?