Ascension Day


Sea Raven, in a powerful sermon for Ascension Day in the blog Liberal Christian Commentary, asks the question, Why is “the church” still standing around looking skyward?

Referring to the four pillars of Imperial theology as outlined by Dominic Crossan--piety, war, peace, victory--she pointedly describes how in practice each of these pillars exhibits a moral bankruptcy that serves only to advance the interests of Empire. For example, "piety" is

“Faith” as “belief” in premodern cosmology; “faith” as “belief” in a resuscitated corpse; “faith” as the certainty that one religion (or political system) is the only true and legitimate one; “faith” as following the drumbeat of political expediency
which in turn leads to war, which in turn leads to a Pyrrhic victory, which in turn leads to a promised, but never fulfilled, peace.

This is the time in the church calendar when much of Christendom will be celebrating a mythical event that never actually took place--the supposed ascension of Jesus upwards, without the benefit of a Jetsons-style jetpack, towards some "heaven" in the dome of the sky as conceived by a pre-modern cosmology that we long ago rejected in favor of a Copernican model. Yet, meanwhile, the prophetic Jewish tradition that this selfsame Jesus came from--that of speaking truth to power--becomes muffled in the process.

She poses the question of what really is the meaning of deliverance?
salvation from hell? or liberation from injustice? And what are the radical acts that will ultimately redeem us – meaning buy us back – from the powers and principalities of Empire and restore us to God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion? To choose liberation is to turn away from reactionary retribution. To choose liberation is to radically abandon self-interest and love enemies. Loving enemies means interacting, negotiating, listening, accommodating to the extent possible without losing integrity. To choose liberation is to speak truth to power no matter where it is. To choose liberation is to acknowledge our complicity with injustice, which is nearly impossible to avoid.

The struggle is to learn to let go of the fear that keeps us trapped in the particular human hells of war, famine, disease and death; to trust in the kingdom that is available whenever we enter the silence outside of the theology of Empire: Piety, War, Victory, which brings only an uneasy, ephemeral peace.
Why indeed is the church looking skyward? The real problems that a prophetic religious tradition should be facing are not found in the clouds, but right here on earth.