(The lead image was The Ascension of Christ, by Gebhard Fugel.)
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Ascension Day is always celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter. (In 2014 it falls on May 29). This major Feast Day – ranking with Easter and Pentecost – commemorates “the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven.”
The Gospel of Luke ends with the “Great Commission,” followed by the Ascension, like the end of Mark (16:15-20). Luke’s version – at 24:44-53 – goes like this:
Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you… Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven…
According to tradition, Luke also wrote the book, Acts of the Apostles, that follows the Gospel of John. Acts begins like this: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven…”
Incidentally, there’s debate whether this Theophilus referred to a real person or was a generic title. See Theophilus – Wikipedia. The name – in the original “refined Koine Greek” – can mean either “beloved of God” or “Friend of God,” and thus some authorities feel that “both Luke and Acts were addressed to anyone who fits that description.”
In that sense Theophilus can be seen as like the name Israel, as in the name-change from Jacob to Israel, with Israel meaning – literally – “He who struggles with God.” In the metaphoric sense, the name Israel could refer to anyone and everyone who “struggles with the idea of God.”
(See the post Arguing with God, which noted in part that maybe Christians are “supposed to ‘argue with God…’ Maybe, just maybe, that’s how we get spiritually stronger, by ‘resistance training’ rather than passively accepting anything and everything in the Bible, without question or questioning.”)
Which brings up the “bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven.”
Some people might have a problem with that, or with the underlying idea that there is indeed “life after life,” for each and every one of us. (In that sense – the sense of a “life” or incarnation for us after this one – Jesus as “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” – Hebrews 12:2 – may have been merely showing us the way by and through His own “Ascension,” in front of witnesses.)
As to those who may have a problem grasping the idea that our souls may continue on after we leave this life and “move on to the next level,” consider the First Law of Thermodynamics. That law of physics states that “energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.” Or put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply changes form. See First law of thermodynamics – Wikipedia.
So if the human soul is a form of energy – an idea that seems self-evident – then it too can neither be created nor destroyed, but simply changes form. Which brings up the question: “Where was my soul before I was born?” Then there’s the question raised by this May 29 Feast Day: “And what about the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven?”
Sounds like it’s time for a bit more “arm-wrestling with God…”
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The full Bible readings for Ascension Day can be found at The Lectionary Page.
As to the question, “Where was my soul before I was born?” That brings to mind a meditation from the Kaballah (basically, “Jewish mysticism”). See e.g. Kabbalah – Wikipedia. In the meditation, you imagine your soul, before you were born, in the situational-equivalent of sitting around a kitchen table. You are sitting around this hypothetical table with other souls yet to be born. With these other souls, you talk about your future life, looking ahead to what you might accomplish in your upcoming “incarnation.” But of course, all of this discussion occurs against the backdrop of knowing anything and everything you talk about will be erased from memory at birth. (“Arm-wrestling,” anyone?)
The “arm-wrestling” image, originally at the bottom of the page, was courtesy of www.armpullers.com/images/Arm-Wrestling-World-Wide.gif.