Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26
Jesus and Monty Python, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney
The scene we are treated to on Ascension Day is straight out of Monty Python. You know the Monty Python shtick. Cartoon figures sprout what appear to be actual human heads and then body parts fly off in every direction. Since there is no blood to accompany these grisly scenes we can tell they are satirical looks at how we believe stuff.
So let’s allow Monty Python play Jesus’ ascension for us. As a group of his friends are standing around him, Jesus begins to levitate. He does this in slo-mo, because Jesus does not rise suddenly. He levitates slowly like a Houdini trick. We know it happened in slow motion because there was enough time for two court jester types (angels in the biblical story) who ran credits as Jesus was ascending to the Father.
“Why are you standing there, looking up into heaven? Don’t you know that this Jesus whom you saw levitate is going to de-levitate. You know how it is: What goes up must come down!” Then Jesus is received into the cloud.
I know it happened like this because we did it in church one year on Ascension Day. Our clown ministry suspended a large puffy cloud from the ceiling of the church. Hanging out of the cloud were two size 18 basketball shoes. We were in church for an hour and a half and I kept waiting for those shoes to complete the trick and disappear into the cloud. I wanted to see Jesus received out of our sight. We were not conjuring a Monty Python trick, we were just helping our imaginations deal with the wonder of God.
We live in a world in which Monty Python is watched by millions as if it were real life, not satire. People just take it in stride. They interpret what they see and hear and make their accommodations with it. When these same people are offered the wonderful legend of Jesus returning to his heavenly father after the resurrection from the dead, you would think someone had canceled Ground Hog day. “Preposterous” they say, how can anyone believe this religious nonsense.”
These are the same folks who actually believe the outcomes of sports events actually matter. They buy billions of dollars worth of memorabilia in hats and bats and tee shirts. They will shave their team’s name in their chest hair.
Human beings, the ones who think about it at all, generally think we are basically stuck here. We are born, we suffer, we have some fun, and then we croak and go underground. Stuck here. No heaven, no hell, just life. “Show biz” as my father used to call it. Truth be told many of us religious people believe pretty much believe the same thing.
In raising Jesus from the Dead, God establishes her credentials. “I am lord of life and death. You can do whatever you want, but I am the one who has it all. You may seem stuck; I am not. If you are interested, my will is that you get unstuck. I brought my beloved Son back to me, so that you could come to me as well; you can come to be with me. And you don’t have to wait until you are dead to do it. You are free to ascend with me now, any time you like. For I am with you always, even to the end.” In short, Jesus’ ascension into heaven holds out a larger vision than our secular cynicism, a vision that is less bounded, less stuck, airier, freer.
Jesus said “All of you are mine,” and he is right. God keeps saying to us: “You are mine. You don’t have to come to me. You are free to stay stuck.” But much like Monty Python, life in the kingdom is a bit unglued.
“So let go. Come on up” says the God who brought Jesus back to life and back to live with God forever.
Those who prefer to be stuck will do as the witnesses did in the first century. They stand around gazing up into heaven. The angels will ask them “why?”
Those who confuse Monty Python with reality will buy season tickets to some game and bet their lives on the outcomes, all the while telling religious people that they are superstitious.