Ascension Day is one of those Church festivals that’s in danger of getting forgotten, but thankfully we have the Sunday after Ascension to remind us of it! Today’s reading from Acts (Acts 1:6-14) relates the Lord’s departure from his disciples, in a simple but perplexing way: ‘… as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.’ In the biblical literature, the cloud is often a symbol of the divine presence, and St Luke here seems to be saying that Jesus was somehow drawn into the heavenly realm. As one commentator says, ‘In the Ascension, our humanity is exalted into the heavenly places, to the throne of God.’
This deeply symbolic understanding doesn’t explain the ‘how’ of the Ascension, but provides its theological meaning: God became man in Christ; and in the exaltation of the Risen Christ we too are raised to heaven. Not that it always feels like that – for we are pretty earth-bound creatures. But the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition invites us to ‘Set your minds on things that are above’, as St Paul put it, ‘not on things that are on earth’. It’s not about ‘having our head in the clouds’, as people say; but being aware that we are called to live as spiritual beings, people whose hearts are in heaven.