seated at the right hand of the Father
We’ve done enough, I hope, on metaphor. There is a reflection on the Ascension. Let us take as read that God does not have a right hand, and heaven is not up.
Let’s talk about absence and presence. An absence is a special sort of presence.
Don’t think of an elephant. There is no elephant in this place, yet somehow, noticing the absence of the elephant has drawn attention to the elephant that isn’t here.
If you’ve lost a tooth, you can’t stop your tongue from going there. The absent tooth is more present than the tooth when it was there. An absence is a special sort of presence.
The story of Jesus, after his death and resurrection, ends with the risen Jesus leaving. Previously, he could, like you and me, only be in one place at one time. Now that he leaves, now that he is absent, there is a special sort of presence.
Don’t tell me that the early church, the early friends of Jesus, didn’t miss Jesus once he had gone. Of course they did.
They very, very quickly encountered all sorts of new situations that Jesus’ teachings had not covered. Jesus had only been teaching for such a short time. And so they soon had fights and arguments and disputes about all the stuff Jesus hadn’t talked about, not to mention all the stuff that Jesus had talked about but not really been very clear about.
The picture of Jesus ascended and seated at the right hand of God the Father is a picture of Jesus reigning; Jesus being in charge, in control. Jesus – God’s prime minister. That’s one picture we find in the Bible.
Another picture we find in the Bible is of the chaos I’ve described: early Christians arguing, confused, and chaotic.
So we have these two pictures: Jesus by being absent is Lord, is fully in control – and yet Jesus by being absent appears to not be in control, because people are arguing about the details he hasn’t left any specifics about. The two pictures seem to be conflicting. Seem to be.
Because I get the suspicion that they are actually the same picture.
Jesus seemed to have an incredibly simple message: love God, love others, love yourself, care for creation. And he lived the message. To the full. To the extreme. To the point where his life is his message.
Maybe, just maybe (I’m suggesting), the details are important – we can’t actually live without the details – but maybe we can have different details, even conflicting details sometimes, disagreeing details – and actually be living the same teaching, living the same Jesus’ life.
Generally, the bigger a teaching is (the more and more details in the teaching) the more rules. If there is a long list of individual beliefs you have to tick – then the group that ticks all the boxes in this long list will be quite small – and everyone in this group will be pretty much the same.
But if you have just a few central, strong, important beliefs and values (without many details), simple beliefs, fewer boxes to tick – you end up with a big group of people with lots of variety. There’s still unity, but the unity is with great diversity, not so much uniformity. Part of the genius of Jesus, it seems to me, is that the core of his beliefs, the core of his teaching, the core of his life and lifestyle is so small and simple.
Jesus ascended, enthroned and reigning, does so over a world that to us may seem divided, and chaotic. That may be because we are so used to a different way of authority; a different way of presence. But absence is a different form of presence.
This is the eighteenth post in a series on the Creed.
The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
The ninth is Conceived by the Holy Spirit
The tenth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)
The eleventh is Born of the Virgin Mary
The twelfth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 3)
The thirteenth is Crucified under Pontius Pilate
The fourteenth is crucified
The fifteenth is Holy Saturday
This sixteenth is He descended to the dead
The seventeenth is on the third day he rose again