He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. - Ephesians 1:22-23
Often medieval and renaissance art portrays Jesus' ascension into heaven by showing the disciples looking upward at nothing but Jesus' feet. I find these images quite amusing. Here are a few more:
The ascension is an odd story, really. The disciples are with Jesus outside and suddenly he disappears into the clouds. The book of Acts says that as soon as he gives them his final words of wisdom, "as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." And the gospel of Luke says "While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven." The disciples are all just left there in the field, looking up at the clouds in wonder and confusion! And I suppose if my leader was talking to me one moment and flying up into the clouds the next, I'd be pretty stunned myself.
We call this holy day the Ascension, which means Jesus ascended - upward. It strikes me how Paul has synthesized this idea in his words to the Ephesians - telling them that God has put everything under Christ's feet, and has made Jesus the ruler over all things. Artists have often taken all of this quite literally in their paintings and icons - even a sculptural relief in one church in Walsingham England:
I'm never quite sure what to make of the ascension, really, but I know that it means that while Jesus was fully human like you and me, he was also certainly also something more than that. I mean, I'm willing to put money down that none of us have relatives or friends that have literally flown up into the clouds like that one day while we were speaking together. So it is certainly something that does set Jesus apart - makes him someone to really look up to.
At the same time, many of us know the experience of someone we know and love suddenly being gone from our sight. Perhaps not in quite this way, but certainly as stunningly as any of these paintings. I'll be chewing on all this this week, and I hope to see you this Sunday as we explore the Ascension together.