25th May 2022

“Now above the sky he’s king…” some of us sang on Easter Day. Really – above the sky? Surely not. Many of us have been ‘above the sky’ in an aircraft, and astronauts have been even further, to say nothing of the various space craft that have gone into the vastness of the universe. Of course this is a hymn looking forward to Ascension Day, which is celebrated tomorrow. Charles Wesley wrote in an Ascension hymn of Christ going “to his throne above the skies…”

The image of Christ rising into a cloud on his way to heaven, commonly depicted by artists over the centuries, is based on Luke’s account in the first chapter of Acts: “he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

Of course, that image served well before modern scientific discoveries and exploration of the universe. Surely this is a clear case for recognising that we are not here dealing with a literal truth. Did the disciples experience a vision or where they trying to rationalise what they experienced in terms they could understand? Who knows!

‘Up’ has always implied superiority – we ‘look up’ to someone we admire and we speak of a successful person ‘going up in the world’. To me that is the significance of Christ ascending or going up. He went to a higher existence in Heaven. In Baptist Praise and Worship, published in 1991 the line in that Easter hymn was changed to “Now above all powers he’s king”. For me that better expresses the true significance of the Ascension.

David T Roberts