The last Sunday of the Eastertide season celebrates the ‘Ascension’ of Jesus, the mysterious disappearing act that has often been characterised as a rocket ship moment, where Jesus is suddenly transported from earth to heaven, the abode of God (along with those who have died with their evacuation assurance policy paid up). While this may sound a little sarcastic and shocking to some, it is simply my way of trying to grapple with my agnosticism around such literal readings of the scriptures. Surely there must be some deeper meaning hiding in the text that is saying something different and more earthly.
'Jesus did not come to change God's mind about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God' - R. Rohr
The Jesus narrative has historically been narrowed down to an escape strategy for those who are afraid of an afterlife judgement. The possibility of eternal separation has posited God as an angry deity who is somewhat disappointed in human kind but has provided an answer in the substitutionary death of Jesus. And while this theology has grown in popularity over the years it has been rooted in a view of God that I believe Jesus came to modify. Jesus as the new face of God brought the God-up-there down to ground level, eventually reconstituting an ancient mystical understanding of the God who is everywhere. The ascension narrative of St Luke (Ch 24) does not ignore or avoid the vertical thinking that dominated peoples’ view of the divine but uses it as a starting point for an enlarged discussion around how we see and understand God.
The ascension story is a glimpse into the idea of ‘the trinity’ a theological profundity that would later capture the imagination of the early church fathers. Trinitarian thought would encapsulate a new unity of relationship that has always existed between humans and the divine. The God-up-there mindset has leaned us towards some kind of separation mainly because of our behavioural recidivism. Jesus came to annul this thinking by showing us that the divine is very comfortable in human flesh. The post-ascension promise of empowerment further reinforces the investment that God as spirit has in our life flow.
Luke’s pre-ascension account takes us on a journey of awakening to new ways that begin to transform our thinking around the possible real ascension story meaning.
An open mind
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures… Luke 24:45
What did Jesus open them up to? What had the scripture always been saying? God loves us and is not disappointed in us? You don’t have to abide by laws or jump through behavioural hoops to try and please this God? Heaven and earth have never been separated and God is not up there? For the ascension to make sense it can’t just be about a God who is located up there but a God who is located in human hearts. We need our minds opened to new ways of thinking about God.
A changed mind
The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem… Luke 24:46-47
The word for ‘repentance’ is ‘metanoia’... a change of mind. Grace as a salvific glue reminds us that we are forgiven, but we need to change our minds about what that means. My sin has a part to play in helping me die to self-destructive and dehumanising behaviour in order that I can experience a resurrection. God is not as offended by my sin (dehumanising action) as I am. We often project our distaste and revulsion for something on to another when we are trying to avoid internal conviction. A changed mind says my weakness is an opportunity for HIS strength. This is not about behaviour modification as such but about taking responsibility for my actions and owning my sh**, no longer seeing Jesus as my scapegoat or escape strategy.
A renewed mind
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” - Luke 24:49
God as Spirit is the ultimate idea of a divine fusion that resonates in all matter. A renewed mind is about the empowerment that we need to do life in a way that connects us to others in a rich communion of oneness. The Pentecost moment reconstituted the human race by reconnecting us with the most fundamental levels of communication and shared need for wholeness. The sending of the Spirit was not an “arrival” as much as a re-entry into the psyche of our fractured understanding. So much of religion has been built on division and dualistic thinking; you are either in or out, going up or down, spiritual or fleshly (whatever that means) often posturing people at odds with others and ultimately with God. When spirit as power, light, life force re-enters our consciousness we all begin to realise that we have the 'mind of Christ’, we just need the gift of discernment and interpretation to understand it all.
Here is a mindfulness prayer and affirmation that will help focus and center you as you let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).
The mind of Christ is wisdom, patience, compassion, empathy, inner peace.
The mind of Christ is selfless and inclusive.
The mind of Christ takes a stance when it sees an act of injustice.
The mind of Christ enjoys a good meal with others at a table.
The mind of Christ knows when to retreat and take time to be in silence with God. Silence reconnects me with the mind of Christ. I then take the mind of Christ and put it into action during my daily routines.
The mind of Christ is a place I live from.
Do you have the mind of Christ?