Question: I was wondering if you could answer something that has troubled me for a while, regarding the Assumption and the Ascension. In the 'old days' when the world was thought of a three tiered, ie. heaven above, hell below, the images of ascension and assumption, where bodies are physically lifted up to heaven, make sense, as they are geographically heading towards heaven. Our understanding of heaven emphasises the living in joy with God rather than it's physical location. In fact we would say heaven is not physically a place above earth. In light of this could I ask, where did the bodies go?
It is a mystery, which is the obvious answer, but our faith calls us to penetrate mysteries.
I am not sure that we actually ever believed hell was below our feet, or heaven above our heads. For the Jews, God was always totally other, beyond our understanding, beyond time and space, this was why the first commandment prohibits the making of images and why, even, the name of God was utter only once a year by only one of the priests and only in the secrecy of the Holy of Holies. For the Jews God is totally other, even beyond human senses, hence the idea of Incarnation, Suffering, Death and Resurrection are a “stumbling block” to the Jews. In the same way to the Greeks the idea of God was totally other, for Platonists, at best he was the Form of Forms, totally other therefore Christ is “Folly”.
The uniqueness of Christianity is its understanding of God’s involvement in the world and the possibility of man’s involvement in God, the Church for the last 2,000 years has battled to maintain the physicality of Gods presence, in the Incarnation, the Person of Christ, as God-Man, without co-mixture; within the Eucharist, within the Church and with the concept of the Resurrection. The Blessed Virgin Mary above all has been the means of affirming that physicality, first of all in the proclamation of her being the Theotokos, (the Mother of God), the last the declaration of the Assumption of Mary Body and Soul. Practically all serious heresies want to deny the physicality that we find expressed in the Prologue of John’s Gospel, it has always been my problem with Protestantism and the Reformation.
The question to ponder is perhaps: what do we mean by Resurrection of the Body, the risen body of Christ is obviously different from his unrisen body, we also use the term body for the Holy Eucharist and for the Church too, we believe he entered heaven in his body, and sits at the right hand of the Father in his body and will come in his body to judge the living and the dead, and at his voice we will rise in our flesh (our bodies). The Assumption is the last of the doctrines that press home the resurrection of the body, yet it also reminds us that even the saints haven’t yet received their risen bodies ( we have their relics) though they have obviously entered heaven, in some way but they too await the Resurrection.