Sunday, May 21, 2017

Acts 1.6-14: Up - Toward Heaven and Out of Sight

The disciples just stood there. Until one of the men in white pointed out that they were just standing there (Easter 7A, Acts 1:6-14). After it was pointed out that they were just standing there, they left, having watched until they could no longer see Jesus. Their last sight of Jesus might have looked something like this.
Salvador Dali. The Ascension of Christ. 1958. Private Collection.
The artist has offered us a very different point of view of this story. Where we usually look across a landscape to see Jesus hovering above the mountain and the disciples, in Dali's painting, we stand where the disciples stood as they watched Jesus leave them. This is the second time since Jesus' resurrection that his friends and followers have been called to let go of Jesus. The disciples know here how Mary felt on Easter morning when Jesus would not let himself be held onto. By this point in the story Jesus is out of the disciples' reach, though he has promised that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. 

The painting includes references to power, of multiple kinds of power. The composition was inspired by a dream in which Dali saw the nucleus of an atom (modern power), here bearing a pattern similar to that of a sunflower's center. Dali saw the nucleus as unifying heaven and earth - which Christ did in his very person. The figure ascends into the heavenly realm, a crescent shape of blue-white created from the outstretched wings of a dove (a symbol of the Holy Spirit, whose power was promised to the disciples - and us). Gaia, the personification of the Earth, is at the top center of the composition. 

Empowered? Powerless? Earthly power? Heavenly power? Spiritual power? Nuclear power? All of these are contained in the composition which reminds us that the disciples just stood. Looking up. Up toward heaven as Jesus left their sight.

Jesus' feet are important in another Ascension Day text. See which one on Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page. For additional Ascension images on Facebook, click here or here.

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