In the Wakefield mystery play for the Feast of the Ascension, the apostle Philip calls out to Christ: “Lord, if it be thi will, / shew vs thi fader we the pray; / we have bene with the in good and ill, / and sagh hym neuer nyght ne day.” To which Jesus points out that whoever sees him sees the Father””but a moment later Jesus is gone, and Mary keens, “All myghty god, how may this be? / a clowde has borne my childe to blys; / Now bot that I wote [know] wheder is he, / my hart wold breke, well wote I this.”
If it is fitting for the disciples and Mary, it is fitting for us to be puzzled by the ascension. As John Henry Newman puts it in an Ascension Day sermon, “This, indeed, is our state at present; we have lost Christ and we have found Him; we see Him not, yet we discern Him.” There are no footprints in the sky, but, as Newman says, the ascension of Christ “is a sure token that heaven is a certain fixed place, and not a mere state.” By the same token, the ascension means that embodied human nature””Christ’s donkey””has a place in heaven. However strange a picture, however stupidly it causes us to stare at the sky, Christ’s promise to prepare a place for his members means nothing less than this: a future life in which, as Dylan Thomas puts it, we “shall have stars at elbow and foot”””and the whole universe (or multiverse, if you prefer) will reveal its secrets, confess its lord, and give us welcome. Hard to believe? The idea was no more probable for ancient science than it is for modern; yet with a robust view of the Creator’s authority over creation, it is just barely conceivable.