"Zoomed Out" COVID Reflections On the Ascension

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Acts 1:12,14: Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. 

Are you Zoomed out? In the last few months of shutdown we’ve been thrust to the internet for everything we once did in person: connecting with one another, working, schooling, shopping, and more. Many are reporting screen fatigue—being Zoomed out. After all, we were created to relate with 3-dimentional beings with legs—not flat faces in boxes.

And yet, our world has become disembodied and decentralized as we’ve become scattered to our homes. Screens aren’t ideal, but they are all we’ve got now until restrictions are lifted. And so we make due with this lesser form of reality until we can experience the real thing again. But boy do we long for real human contact!

In Acts 1:12, we find the apostles wandering back to Jerusalem not more than two verses after Jesus was taken from them in His ascension. All of a sudden their relationship with Jesus—once so present as a real, living, breathing person—had become disembodied and His Kingdom, decentralized. Sure, Jesus being in heaven meant that He was now spiritually present everywhere. But in transitioning to heaven, it also meant that He was physically present nowhere. The disciples who had walked with Jesus for the last three years must have felt that loss of tangible fellowship, acutely.

They moved “online.” Immediately the disciples began to pray. Constantly. Prayer was the first form of a communication platform like Zoom.

It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t nearly as good as talking with Jesus face to face, but it was something. They could communicate. And so they made do with that lesser form of reality called prayer until they should see Jesus face to face once again, as He’d promised they would one day.  

Prayer was not something magical, not a way of manipulating a deity, nor a formulaic or pious thing. Prayer was dead practical: they wanted to talk to Jesus—and this was the only way to do it now.     

In the decentralized kingdom of Jesus, prayer is the means of communicating with our Lord, the King. And communication is the only way to build or keep a relationship going. So we pray. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we have.

Maybe in that way, prayer, like Zoom, produces a longing in our bones, a good and healthy Christian longing, for the day when we will see face to face and know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). Prayer connects us to Jesus imperfectly, keeping the relationship going but also stirring a longing for the consummation of that relationship in real, tangible, embodied fellowship in the coming Kingdom of God.

Prayer stirs a longing for the promise of Revelation to be fulfilled: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them.”  “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen, Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 21:3; 22:20).

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Thank you for making this connection. Strangely I've never thought of the disciples relationship with Jesus being severed in such a way that prayer was intensely practical. Thanks again for sharing! 

Participant

I've been wondering for some days now what the push is for churches to "reopen." The doors may be shut and offices functioning with only office staff, but the churches are not closed. As you say, Anthony, the disciples had to connect with their ascended Lord in the original online communication--invisible, nAo glitches, always plenty of bandwidth and free as Grace. As a colleague said on another platform, perhaps the churches (congregations, leaders, pastors) longing to reopen don't have a deep enough ecclesiology, limiting the Church to physical gathering, whether that be for worship, fellowship, study, or social engagement and service. Some have even made the exaggerated allegation that keeping churches physically closed is a kind of persecution or minimally repression. 

If we consider any number of instances of limited or even prohibited gatherings of Christians in recent and distant church history, it's pretty clear that God's people figured out ways to keep the church breathing, while apparently in a coma and on life support (well, ALWAYS on Bread and Water of Life Support, come to think of it). Nor even 50 years ago after President Nixon, of otherwise dubious repute and behaviour, visited China, which began to open up ever so slowly that secret and closed society. It didn't take long to discover that the church had not died since missionaries were expelled, but that Christians had grown under persecution. From the mid-60s to the mid-70, churches in Cuba were similarly, if not as cruelly and completely oppressed in Cuba. Some churches recognized before the Cuban Revolution were permitted to worship in their buildings only, with prohibitions of inviting friends or neighbours. In one village case two women and their four children of the Christian Reformed Church in Cuba kept the church going in the building for over 15 years with worship every Sunday and prayer meetings every Wednesday evening, registering every meeting with the local authorities for permission. Many others met in their homes--but with no singing, because that was prohibited. All that before virtual online, communal worship.

So, another of my surmisings: I wonder if God isn't giving us an opportunity to practice anew the almost lost Christian spiritual discpline of solitude. I'd love to return to open communal worship, but this new worship is not bad and I believe God is turning this time to our profit, as the H.Cat teaches us.

  

Participant

I agree

Great post, thanks Anthony!