God is in control
What do you think of when you imagine Jesus? Do you imagine the baby in the manger, surrounded by joyful parents, angels and shepherds? Do you picture him as depicted in millions of simulated photographs distributed throughout the world — a de-ethnicized, white-ish male with flowing brown hair and slight beard?
I can picture Jesus teaching his followers, healing the sick and sparring with the Pharisees. One way I do not imaging Jesus, at least not often, is as a ruler, enthroned in the heavens at the right hand of the father.
That’s what we celebrate today in the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,” we’re told in today’s Gospel reading, “was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.”
Now, I don’t know any more than anybody else about the physical dimensions of what the Scriptures call heaven. Is it a place? Is it a like a perfect version of earth? I don’t know, and I’m not sure we’re supposed to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. What we are encouraged to do in today’s celebration is remind ourselves that God is in fact in control of our world.
The times where we feel that we are masters of our own destinies are illusions. Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry trying to persuade us to let go of this illusion and all the pressure it brings and the anxiety it can create.
That’s easier said than done, right? It doesn’t always “feel” like God is in control of this world, and that Jesus is running things directly from God’s right side. We experience far too much pain, anxiety and suffering in our own lives and in the horrible things we hear about each day. How is it that violent crimes, atrocious killings and unspeakable hatred are present in a world controlled by God?
Well, maybe we should return to this picture of Jesus more often. It’s easy to relate to a fragile, vulnerable child, maybe because we often feel so fragile and vulnerable ourselves. And it’s easier to imagine the earthly Jesus because he lived as a very human preacher and teacher. Most of us have experienced preachers and teachers, so we know what they are like.
But as an all-powerful spiritual presence, located in some place called heaven and residing in some kind of throne — well, that’s an image and a way of relating to Jesus that doesn’t jump to mind, at least not for me.
However, reminding ourselves that in Christ, God is in control of our world, can be immeasurably comforting in times where we feel alone, afraid and very much out of control. The reality is that we are indeed out of control; the times where we feel that we are masters of our own destinies are illusions.
Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry trying to persuade us to let go of this illusion and all the pressure it brings and the anxiety it can create. God is in control. God loves us. God will do anything, even die for us. This is the wonderful message of the Easter season.