Ascension Day and Astronaut Jesus
For those not down with the liturgical calendar Ascension Day is traditionally celebrated on a Thursday, forty days after Easter Sunday. Then, 10 days after Ascension Day, there is Pentecost celebrating the disciples being en fuego.
As James pointed out earlier this week Ascension Day and the story which inspires it challenges the claims of any person to read the Bible literally.
And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
There’s two aspects to this story I’d like to comment on. First, if we were to take the story literally then the two men in white clothing ask perhaps one of the silliest questions in the Bible, “why do you stand looking into the sky?”
I can just imagine one of the disciples turning around and sarcastically replying, “Well, Jesus came back to life and started walking through walls and stuff, and now he just floated to heaven on a cloud… so yeah, I’m trying to get my head around this for a minute if you don’t mind.”
Second, and more importantly, we can’t really take this story literally for a variety of reasons. Literally Jesus goes up to heaven in the story. This ‘perspective’ is built on the cosmology of first century persons
However, as we all now know, heaven is not ‘up’, and if everyone on earth were to be raptured ‘up’ to heaven they would go in a variety of different directions in our solar system as we are on a planet orbiting the sun, while rotating at 23.5 degrees.Which one of these persons would fly ‘up’ to heaven?
So according to the story, astronaut Jesus flies his cloud up, and I assume we are to believe that he no longer needs oxygen in his resurrected body and that he is impervious to the vacuum of space. But where would Jesus be traveling to if we know that it’s not just a short trip ‘up’ to get to heaven?
This is a picture of our galaxy
Our galaxy is 100,000 light years across, so that means if traveling at the speed of light “We now know that, if [Jesus] began ascending two thousand years ago, he would not yet have left the Milky Way (unless he attained warp speed). ~ Keith Ward (The Big Questions in Science and Religion p.107, via James McGrath].
On the one hand it surprises me looking back at my earlier cognitive categories for reading and understanding biblical narratives that I could hear and read this story with absolutely no skepticism whatsoever. Jesus flew to heaven. Check. Flip the page to the Upper room story without even considering some of the problematic issues in the ascension narrative.
Now of course there are theological ‘explanations’ for the story, but what I am referring to in this post is the physical realities and difficulties, simply put: it cannot be read literally and made to cohere with what we now know about our planet, solar system, and galaxy.