Image: ‘Ascension’ by Albert Tucker (detail), 1962 (oil and mixed media on composition board).

‘All the while withdrawing from our grasp …’

Andrew Collis
Ascension, Year B
Luke 24:50-53

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter, which commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the promise of the Holy Spirit. One mode of revelation concluding, something new happening. We might reflect on letting go, starting again, seeing and feeling again.

By virtue of the promise, an absence signifies presence – possibility (through tears of sadness, relief, joy; tears in response to grace). For the Easter season, ultimately, is about re-embodiment – the Spirit of Christ inspiring a body of believers.

Some theologians call this “spiritual materialism” and offer further examples: Logos and Sophia incarnate in the flesh, in the lost, the last and the least, in everyday language (little words) … Words of life eluding literalism. Healing practice eluding moralism. Sacramental presence eluding superstition.

Jean-Luc Marion writes of a “saturating presence”, a presence that so pervades and infuses the world with glory that it confuses and dazzles our imaginations. Examples may include phenomena around birth, death, ecstasy and/or sublime encounter – truth, beauty, goodness – creativity, Country.

Painter Albert Tucker’s well-known artwork, “Ascension” (1962), celebrates a sacramental or saturating presence – the ascended Christ in/as the land of God. In varied textures, ochres …

Songwriter Sufjan Stevens devotes an entire album to the theme (2020) – history, disappointment and pain; faith, hope and love – musical, cultural phenomena filled to overflowing. Christ plays in myriad forms.

Aunty Pearl Wymarra shares a story she loves, a sacred story from the First People of the Daintree.

The Kuku Yalanji have a legend about the striking backdrop to Mossman Gorge, the most prominent of the nearby mountains. Manjal Dimbi (also known as Mount Demi) means “mountain holding back”.

The large humanoid rock represents the ancestor Kubirri, who came to the aid of the Kuku Yalanji when they were persecuted by an evil spirit. Kubirri holds back the evil, now confined to the bluff above the Mossman River. Kubirri is thus known as the “Good Shepherd”.

Pearl relates a visit to Mossman Gorge, the moment she shared the story with her younger brother Herbie. Herbie looked up, she says. Seeing the rock formation in the sun, he smiled: “It is Jesus!” 

“While blessing them, the Saviour left them and was carried up to heaven” (Luke 24:51). The ascended Christ is a figure of God’s overwhelming presence, a presence “all the while withdrawing from our grasp” (Garry Worete Deverell), yet all the while blessing us and seeking our surrender to love. Amen.

Image: ‘Ascension’ by Albert Tucker, 1962 (oil and mixed media on composition board).