Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Because of the Wonderful Things He Does"

The Ascension of the Lord

On Sunday, May 20, a vast majority of Christian Churches celebrated - three days late, no less - the ascension of  Jesus into heaven. (And I'm well over a week late; I was reminded of it yesterday when I discovered that the Catholic diocese for the armed forces - yes, Virginia, it exists - celebrates its Memorial Mass the Sunday before Memorial Day Weekend; this year, that was the Sunday on which the Ascension was observed.)

There's a strange sense of confusion about Jesus' ascension to heaven that many theologians and preachers have gone to lengths to justify, but nonetheless remains. The eleven remaining apostles were certainly shocked and turned to panic again. They had not quite wrapped themselves around Jesus' resurrection from the dead, and now this?

It has been taught that Jesus had to leave this world after his resurrection in order that the Holy Spirit could come and generally make sense to the apostles all that concerned the life of Jesus, and of their own future as proponents of the Gospel. Since this still has the potential for open questions, to what can we turn that is closer to our own time that speaks in similar themes?

I may have found such an item.

The 1939 film version of Lyman Frank Baum's story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz contains several parallels, even if imperfect, that might provide food for thought. It might do nothing. Since it struck me enough to suggest I should blog about it, I'm taking a shot at it.

First, there's the very nature about how the 'wizard' gets to Oz in the first place. Our title character is working as a hot-air balloon pilot at a county fair in Kansas when one day, a sudden change in the weather took the pilot into the clouds and out of the people's sight. He lands near the fabled Emerald City, and because he has basically fallen from the sky - a feat only the four 'witches' can accomplish - he is named the Wizard of Oz. It's a bit different for Jesus - the Gospels of Matthew and Luke attempt to tell the story of his birth through genealogies and applied legends - yet, according to Mark and John, Jesus basically shows up as if he has descended from the heavens as an adult.

At the end of the film, the Wizard attempts to take Dorothy back to Kansas via the balloon that got him to Oz. However, Dorothy has to manage her dog Toto, which makes her just a tad too late. As the balloon drifts up and away from its moorings, Dorothy shouts, "Come back!!" But the Wizard replies, "I can't come back! I don't know how it works!" Jesus really can't come back, either. Even in his divinity he is subservient to his Father's will. Though Jesus knows how it works - he has promised his disciples that another Advocate would come and fill in the gaps - he must go in order that the Holy Spirit could come upon them with divine fire, zeal, and enlightenment that could then propel Peter and the others to overcome their fear and preach boldly about their beloved Lord, Master, Savior and Friend.

Finally, all the main characters are looking for something real that they felt missing. To the Scarecrow, it was Knowledge; the Tin Man, a Compassionate Heart; the Lion, Courage; and Dorothy, a sense of Community. These could only be found from within themselves; and all along they had the capabilities and capacity, even to the point of unwittingly tipping their hand to the watching audience. In reading the Gospel accounts, the Apostles and disciples were frequently given many clues (now obvious to us) of what lay ahead for them. Just as frequently they would witness an 'a-ha' moment and in the next be quite clueless as to what it meant. Only with the coming of the Holy Spirit did they realize that they indeed had the ability to do just as Jesus had commanded them.

I'm not about to attempt to rewrite the lyrics to "We're Off To See The Wizard" (it would probably contain more theological errors through metrical and lyrical liberty). Having said that, though, it's clear that if ever, O ever a wiz there was, Our Lord the Christ is the one because...because of the wonderful things he (still) does...through the legacy of the Gospels, the letters of the Apostles, and the inter-workings of the Holy Spirit, which continues in the Church and the world up to and including today, tomorrow, and as long as God wills watching this present creation.

He has given us the capacity, ability, and grace to fulfill the one great commandment: Love one another. 

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