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Especially when I’m on the road, as I’ve been a lot lately, I have REALLY begun to enjoy the fact that virtually all of my important data is stored “in the cloud”. That is, almost everything from my data files to my email and my photos are all stored remotely, so that I can access them no matter where I am and no matter what device I’m using. It makes my life SO much easier and less stressful!
It wasn’t so long ago that it wasn’t like this. My email was all downloaded onto a computer in my office. All of my personal contacts were stored on my home computer. And all the files I needed were – well, they were somewhere and I wasn’t always sure where!
But now, almost everything is stored in the cloud, and I can access it from wherever I am. Of course, it’s not an actual “cloud”. The “cloud” is a collection of severs somewhere that are always connected to the internet and redundantly backed up so I don’t have to worry about it (although, not entirely trusting that, I do still have a multi-TB back-up drive in my house!) But the “cloud” is a term we use, and symbol we have, for stuff that’s available always and everywhere.
I mention this not only because I needed the cloud a lot over the past week, but because today we conclude the Easter season by celebrating Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. And as our reading from Acts points out, this is a day where it looks like Jesus has literally been stored in the cloud! “As they were watching, Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Jesus is literally in the cloud! But what does that mean? I’m afraid that all too often, Christians read the story of the Ascension of Jesus and deduce that the meaning is that Jesus, who once came to earth, is now gone. It was fun while it lasted, but it’s over now. And everyone needs to go back to their lives without the presence of God until someday when Jesus returns.
But that’s actually NOT the meaning of the Ascension. After all, if the meaning was that Jesus was gone from the disciples’ lives, then the Gospel of Luke wouldn’t end with them returning to Jerusalem with great joy, and blessing God.
Instead, the disciples realized that Jesus’ Ascension meant that, even though he was “out of their sight” (as he had been between Resurrection appearances), he was now going to be present for them always and everywhere. It was sort of like what we mean when we talk about being “stored in the cloud.”
If Jesus had remained physically on earth and in one place, it would have been like the old days when I had email physically stored on my desktop computer. To access Jesus, I’d have to be in a particular place at a particular moment, and probably fight through a crowd of other people trying to do the same thing.
But in his ascension, Jesus promised his disciples that he’d continue to do what they had begun to experience in his Resurrection appearances – that he’d be available to all of them, all of the time, no matter where they were … (which is kind of what’s implied when you read some of the Resurrection appearances in Luke…)
The message of Easter is that Jesus is NOT dead and gone. And we shouldn’t turn the meaning of the Ascension into “Jesus is alive and gone.” After all, that’s not a whole lot better!
Instead, like the first disciples, we should take seriously the notion that Jesus really is “stored in the cloud” in the sense that he is always and everywhere available to each and every one of us. The first disciples understood this, and were able to return to Jerusalem with great joy, and bless God.
And for us, too, the reality that Jesus’ presence is always and everywhere present for us, mediated by the Holy Spirit, means that we also:
- Are never alone or separated from Jesus’ presence in our lives … (Jesus’ ascension does NOT mean, “you’re on your own; see you later when you get to heaven!”…)
- Can actually rely on and expect Jesus to help us no matter where we are or what situation we face …
- Should remember that there is a greater reality in our lives than the chaos and dysfunction in our world that so often surrounds us and captivates our attention and emotions …
So with this weekend, Easter is over. But Jesus’ Risen presence is not. The Ascension assures us that we are never alone in this world. The Ascension promises us that Jesus is available always and everywhere to help us in facing the challenges of life. And the Ascension reminds us that there is always a greater and more transcendent reality to life than anything we face in the world around us.