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Last week we marked Ascension Day, forty days since the resurrection of Jesus, and the day that his body was taken up into heaven.
The writer of Acts makes a big deal out of the details here — he gave the disciples “many convincing proofs” that his body was alive. He sits around a eats. Back in Luke, it’s the same: he shows them his scars. They touch his body. He has a snack.
There’s a critical point being made here: it is not a spirit that rises from the dead, it is a human body. It’s not a spirit that ascends to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is a human body.
Since Ascension Day, we have learned that more than fifty Palestinian bodies gunned down in the Gaza protests, on what President Trump tweeted was a “Big Day for Israel,” and that Christians in the Middle East note they have been abandoned by American Evangelicals.
We have learned that the U.S. government is making plans to house the bodies of children, taken from their parents at the border by the government, on military bases.
We have learned that President Trump stated, “Those aren’t people,” referring to immigrant bodies being removed from the country, “they’re animals.”
The writer of Luke and Acts needs us to understand that this wasn’t some spirit that ascended to the right hand of God — it was a human body: scarred, abused, broken.
Any understanding of God’s promises, any doctrine of eschatology, any hope of heaven that focuses so much on an afterlife that it can be used to excuse or ignore suffering and oppression of human beings in this life — in this moment — has totally forgotten about the ascension of Jesus.
The ascension does not allow us to focus on heaven, but requires us to pay attention to the human body in our midst.
It requires us to see the mother, separated from her baby at the border, and declare her holy. It requires us to see the black man, handcuffed and tossed in the cop car, and declare that he is holy. The child throwing stones in rage at the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel: holy. The refugee, told there is no room for them in the safety of America: holy. The “animal” gang member, tattoos on his face, gun in his hand: holy.
Heaven is not a place that forgets our skin or our scars or our selves. It is a place where being human is so valuable it sits at the right hand of God.