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Ascension is probably the festival of the church year that makes people most uncomfortable, because it's liable to involve you in sounding like you're discussing the premise for a science fiction story - if you ask 'where is the body of Christ now?', then it's not a question we can answer; you can say 'heaven', of course, but that comes down to saying 'I believe it's somewhere, but I don't actually understand anything about how or where'. Mechthild of Magdeburg saw a vision of the human Christ in the midst of the Trinity, which would make a lovely icon, but if you try to think about what that would be like, what it would feel like, then we're back in science fiction territory, with a whole lot of unanswerable questions about time, eternity, and what it means to be human. Which, if you have a certain type of mind and imagination, you can have hours of brain-melting fun trying to entangle, but in the end, the only answer is 'we can't know.'

And yet it's not an easily disposable, sightly embarassing extra. Because Christianity is not - though we're very good at forgetting this - a particularly spiritual religion. Creation matters, bodies matter. Bodies, indeed, are part of who we are. The Ascension, in reminding us that Christ, who is truly God and truly human remains human, remains flesh and blood as we are flesh and blood, reminds us that God will not abandon us; whatever heaven is, exactly, it does not mean the loss of our humanity (I am rather creeped out by the tendency to talk about the dead becoming 'angels', but that's by the way).

When I was a child, I couldn't understand why it was a festival; surely Jesus going away was sad? But it's not really about Christ going away, it's him going on ahead. The church, Christians throughout time and space, are not left alone and helpless, because of the coming of the Spirit, and because of Christ's presence in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

I've been thinking a bit lately about research into the Historical Jesus, and how you often hear people finding it painful, because it removes what they thought Jesus was and replaces it with a sketchy, alien figure from a vastly different cultural context (though maybe not as different as we sometimes think). It has a fundamental problem, because the method requires you to bracket out the question of Christ's divinity. The portrait of the humanity we get may indeed be difficult for us to relate to, but it's only part of the story. Jesus told Mary Magdalen 'do not cling to me, for I have not yet gone up to the Father'; rather cryptic words, but perhaps they can be read in the context of the Ascension, the bit of the story that makes it clear that we have to think about Christ as fully divine and fully human, if we are going to be Christians at all. Perhaps we can only cling to Christ, who is both Jesus of Nazareth and the Word and Wisdom of God, if we know this part of the story. Otherwise we'd only get the Historical Jesus, if that, who may be tremendously interesting, but is not the fullness of God's truth.

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