Walking between rectory and parish office, I pass the playground of the kindergarten students. I’m frequently stopped to look at a loose tooth, to examine a bug or to take in whatever passes that day for news with tikes. Sometimes, I am assailed with questions.
Mandy, one of the few children of Mexican descent in the school, recently asked me, “Did Jesus have curly hair?”
As a pastor, I’ve learned this helpful stalling tactic, which works with kids and complainers. I repeat the question. “Did Jesus have curly hair?”
“Yeah. The other girls made fun of my curly hair, but my Mom said that Jesus had curly hair, just like me. Did Jesus have curly hair, Father?”
Kids can be cruel, especially to each other. They are very creative and haven’t yet learned boundaries. And their victims, other kids, have so few defenses.
“Did Jesus have curly hair? Well, yes, I guess that he did.”
“No, I’m sure that Jesus did had curly hair. Very much like yours. Why, now that I look at it, your hair is just like his. Funny, I hadn’t noticed that before.”
“Good.” She was off, no doubt to underscore her mother’s assertion with Father’s authority.
Is Mandy’s mom a liar? Is she toying with the truth in an effort to protect her daughter? I’m not an anthropologist, but I suspect that Jesus of Nazareth looked much more like Mandy than he did her blond hair, blue-eyed classmates. And her mom’s retrieval of Christ’s humanity stands at the center of the Easter mystery, of the Ascension.
In the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, our humanity—something created and temporal, corporeal and limited—entered into the Godhead. The eternal Son of the Father carries human nature, a human soul and body, into divinity itself. This is the startling realization that follows resurrection. If Christ was truly man and if his resurrection from the dead shows him to be truly God, then, in him, humanity itself has been deified, lifted up into God.
Hearing such talk, perhaps since childhood, we can fail to recognize the pride hidden in the paradox.
Remember that religions, quite sensibly and rightly, emphasize that God, the Divine, the mystery at the core of life, is not who we are, not like what we are like. That’s why the deep impulse of all creeds is to fall silent, to close the eyes, to retreat, as far as possible from the human, when praying.
We do this instinctively when we pray alone. How else does one approach pure spirit save by silent thought, the most spiritual act of the human person? Yet in the liturgy we sing, we process, we shake hands and embrace, we smell incense, we taste bread and wine, we touch water and oil. We clothe sacred ministers in vestments. We make the body itself into an icon of the spirit.
We do this, because, like the first disciples of the Christ, we have come to realize that the resurrection did more than raise a man from the dead. The resurrection glorified one man, and, in doing so, transfigured the world. The cosmos, with the Lamb at its center, is now the great tabernacle.
There’s an important corollary. In asserting how unlike God is to us, religions also remind us how little our lives matter in the grand scheme of things. They teach us stoic acceptance of those things, which we can never change. We are tutored to make our peace with pain, with suffering, with death.
It is not so in the light of revelation, of resurrection. In the ascension of Christ, we recall—and each year realize more fully—what it means for human nature, human history, human destiny, to be taken up into God. Our lives matter. Our bodies matter. Our earth matters.
We will not shuffle off this mortal coil, because Christ has claimed it as his own. And because Christ has made it his, what we now are, the dreams for which we struggle, even what we now suffer, is destined to be transformed into glory.
The next day, Mandy had a new question. “Did God the Father have curly hair? My mom says that if Jesus had curly hair, like me, his Father did too.” Let’s face it. Mandy’s mom is a liar, and I told Mandy that God the Father has no hair. He isn’t at all like us.
Liar she might be, but Mandy’s mom is a brilliant Christian theologian and a woman of great faith. She knows that even something trivial, something like hair’s color and texture, once mattered greatly to God, still matters to God.
Acts 1: 1-11 Hebrews 9: 24-28, 10: 19-2 Luke 24: 46-53