Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service, today we’re celebrating Jesus’s ascension into heaven. As we heard in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is enveloped in a cloud, and he’s lifted up into the heavens, as the apostles look up in astonishment.
There are so many beautiful and famous works of art depicting this moment of Jesus’s ascension, but did it really happen this way?
Did the apostles really see Jesus bodily rise and disappear into the clouds? Did Jesus really defy the law of gravity?
One of the leading theologians of our time, Bishop John Shelby Spong, asks somewhat sarcastically, “Do you suppose Jesus went up past the moon, and then perhaps, turned left at Mars?”
And, Father Richard Rohr – another leading Progressive Christian theologian – tells us that we shouldn’t believe in some “Rocket Ship” Jesus – that this isn’t some “beam me up Scotty moment.”
Remember, the stories of the Bible are not meant to be understood literally. They are meant to be understood symbolically, spiritually.
John Dominic Crossan – who was part of the famous Jesus Seminar – explains it this way. He says: “My point isn’t that the ancient people told stories literally and now we’re smart enough to understand them symbolically. My point is that the ancient people told stories symbolically, and now we’re dumb enough to understand them literally.”
Now, is it possible that Jesus defied the laws of gravity? Sure. All things are possible with God. But, today, we’re not just celebrating some supernatural miracle that may or may not have happened to a man from Nazareth more than 2,000 years ago.
The Ascension is about us. It symbolizes the spiritual ascension that takes place in us (right here and now) when we allow the Spirit of the Divine to envelop us and lift us up, so that we can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, where is the Kingdom of Heaven? Well, Jesus had a lot to say about the Kingdom of Heaven, but he never once said it was a place up in the clouds that we go to after we die. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is “at hand,” it is here and now.
And, he said, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
God’s dwelling place is not UP THERE or OUT THERE. It is in here. THAT’s where Jesus ascended…back into God’s dwelling place. And, THAT is the purpose of the spiritual journey for us… to ascend into the Kingdom… to RISE in consciousness… not in the next life, but in this one.
Miriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “ascension” as “the process of rising to a higher or more powerful position.” Our spiritual ascension, my friends, is a process. Our rising in consciousness doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
I’ve shared with you before how the number 40 appears over and over again in the Bible...
The number 40 in the Bible is a not a literal number, but a symbolic period of time. It symbolizes the time it takes for the workings of the Spirit to be made manifest. It is why the Church celebrates Lent 40 days before Easter, and the Ascension 40 days after Easter. It’s a process.
And, we are part of that process. We are here to ascend spiritually…. to rise in consciousness… so that we can be free.
In his book, “Spiritual Liberation,” Rev. Michael Beckwith describes the 4 Stages of Spiritual Consciousness.
The first stage he describes as the “TO ME” state. Most people on the planet are in this first stage of consciousness. A victim state. They believe that everything is happening TO them, that they are victims of circumstance. They say things like: “Why is this happening to me?”
But, as we ascend spiritually (as we rise in consciousness) we realize that we are not victims --- that we have the power within us to change our circumstances. We then move into what Beckwith calls the “BY ME” state of consciousness… that life doesn’t happen to me, but by me.
In this second stage, we discover that when we change our thoughts, we change our lives. And, that’s a wonderful discovery and a wonderful place to be, but we’re only halfway there.
Stage three is the “THROUGH ME” stage. This is the stage of surrender, where we stop trying to control things, and just allow God to work through us, so that we become instruments of peace and channels of grace.
But, there’s still one more stage.
The fourth and final stage is known as the “AS ME” state, where “I and the Father/I and the Mother” become one. God AS me. One in the same. This is the state of consciousness that was achieved by Jesus and other ascended masters.
So, how do we know if we’re ascending? How do we know if we’re progressing on the spiritual path… if we’re rising in consciousness?
Well, I recently came across the 12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening, and they are:
My friends, despite what you may be hearing, the human race is rising in consciousness. More and more people are awakening, so do not be discouraged. Keep rising!! For, as we rise, we lift up the world, helping others to ascend, and bringing about the kin-dom of heaven right here on Earth.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance by Richard Rohr
Everything that happens to Jesus must happen in our individual souls as well. The Incarnation means the divine indwelling is not out there. It happens within us. This movement from Jesus to the Christ means that the same anointing that was given to Jesus is given to all of us. That’s why he didn’t say, “Worship me.” He said, “Follow me.” We’ve projected more onto Jesus than he ever asked for. Also Jesus didn’t move from Jesus to the Christ without death and resurrection. And we ourselves don’t move from our independent, historical body to the Christ consciousness without dying to our false self. We, like Jesus himself, have to let go of who we think we are, and who we think we need to be. We have to become the naked self before the naked God. That will always feel like dying. We need to know, experientially, that naked, undecorated self is already and forever the beloved child of God. Jesus’ life is also our life. Carl Jung called Christ the archetype of the soul. Jesus came forth from God, was initiated in baptism, went through a normal growing up then developed a ministry, was rejected, suffered, died and ascended -- returned back to where he came from. We all go through that journey of transformation that returns us to where we began but with a freer consciousness. We’ve turned Christianity into that evacuation plan for the next world. The term “cosmic Christ” reminds us that everything and everyone belongs. We’re indeed the body of Christ. God’s hope for humanity is that one day we will all recognize that the divine dwelling place is all of creation. Christ comes again whenever we see that matter and spirit coexist. This truly deserves to be called good news.
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