Bob Marley and the miracle of the Ascension

The more I reflect on Ascension Day,  the more I see the way in which, perhaps unaware of this connection himself, the musician Bob Marley connected with the heart of the meaning of the experience of Jesus ascendant over all of life and our world which the early Christians remembered in the ascension story.

In his classic song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” Bob riffs about themes at the heart of the message of this experience of Christ.  Notice his words:

“Ey, get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Preacher man, don’t tell me
Heaven is under the earth
I know you don’t know
What life is really worth
It’s not all that glitters is gold
Half the story has never been told
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
You see, most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
We sick an’ tired of your ‘ism-schism game
Dyin’, goin’ to heaven in-a Jesus’ name, Lord
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man
You can fool some people sometimes
But you couldn’t fool all the people all the time
And now we see the light
You stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight!
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
Don’t give up the fight
I say now (don’t give up the fight) whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Whooa-oh, ooh-oh
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Ethiopia (Ethiopia)
Yo-o (yo-o)
Yo, Jah-Jah (yo Jah-Jah)
Yo-o (yo-o)
Yo, Jah-Jah (yo Jah-Jah)
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
I said now, whoa-a (whoa-a)
Whoa-a (whoa-a)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
So we won’t give up the fight
You see, most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
Make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Oh, yo (oh, yo)
Oh, yo-yo-yo (oh, yo-yo-yo)
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!
Stand up for your rights!”

As most fans of Marley know, Bob doesn’t write as a mainline Christian like myself, but instead as a follower of Rastafarianism, which viewed the then-living King of Ethiopia as a re-inarnaction of Jesus, and thus a living avatar of God.   This idea of Jesus becoming reincarnated is rejected by mainline Christianity and in fact kind of flies in the face on the idea of the ascension.

That said, it inspires words that connect directly with the message of Ascension Day.   Marley calls into question preachers who tell people to live for some heaven after they die, and the ways in which the church lies divided by “ism-schism”.   He says instead if the Mighty God exists as a living man that means we should expect God to work within us, we flesh and blood folks, to empower us to not just wait for God returning in the skies, but instead to work to seek God’s justice here on this earth.   Faith in God as present in a living human inspires him to call his hearers to not just roll over against life’s struggle but instead to get up, stand up, fighting for their rights.

How similar the ascension story!

cosmic christ

When the early believers surround the risen Jesus, asking him when Jesus would set right the injustices around them by establishing “the kingdom”, the alternative community of justice, peace, and abundance for all in which there will be no poor among us and no sick without access to health and healing, Jesus points them back to their responsibility: they will receive power, literally dynamos — the sort of explosive energy found in dynamite which since we have used to literally move mountains — a spiritual power to shake the structures of society, turning unjust systems on their head.   They are to use this in being witnesses to the different life, different world, Jesus proclaimed in his teachings like the Sermon on the Mount.

When Jesus rises ascendant over all of life and they stand, mouths agape, the message of the angels is not “sit waiting” but instead “get up, stand up, fight”.  They ask why these bearers of Jesus’ message stand waiting, when they have been given work to do.

And most interesting to me, the reason they can trust that God is giving them this power is that they have witnessed that the mighty God is a living Man.  In some way I at least cannot fully understand, God united God’s self with humanity.  In Jesus, they saw a human life fully aflame with God’s power, presence, and love.   So much so that they called Jesus “Son of God”, “Savior”, “Lord”, and one of their number founded a community that talks about Jesus as being God  having”became flesh and lived among us, …  full of grace and truth” (John 1).

black sacred heart of jesus

In their experience of ascension, the disciples did not experience what I do in those moments I experience Jesus ascendant over all of my life — a vague sense that my life is held in God’s hands, a sense that Christ is carrying and leading me, a comforting knowing that I need not fear for the future.  They experienced that and more: they saw the body of an earthly man, afire with God’s presence, rise up to the realm where God is, so that who God is now is united forever with who we are as human beings.

I like to say Ascension Day is something like a woman choosing to become pregnant.  Now her body alone is not all she bears in mind.  Rather she is united now, with the life of another.  Her life and fate is now tied up, intermingled, with the life and fate of the growing life in her body.  So that forever she cannot imagine her future without also considering the future of that child’s.

Ascension Day means that in some way beyond words, which can only be depicted in symbolic language like riding on clouds through the sky, ascending to a throne room, filling all things with one’s life like the ocean, God and humanity have become united.   God has not future without us, and we have no future without God.   God has bound up God’s future, God’s plans, God’s life, with that of flesh and blood people like you and me and our world, from the tiniest hair on our head to the star-spangled galaxies that surround us.

mother holding baby 1

This gives great hope.  As the creed of the Uniting Church of Canada says, we can trust that this is God’s world and in life, in death, and in life beyond death we are God’s, held safe in our Creator’s hands.

Yet it is also a challenge to not just stand, staring up in wonder, mouths agape.   Rather, this should inspire a wonder that leads us to set our hand to the plow.   We are called as Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said, to be engaged: yes in bandaging up the wounded from the crushing wheel of the world’s injustice — a bandaging both of other people but even other living things and God’s earth.  But not just such bandaging.  Also, as Jesus did, driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice itself.

This path — the path of servant love, the path of nonresistance to evil, the path of giving up materialism for sharing resources together for the common good, the path of welcoming all at table as God’s very own no matter how different they are — is also what we see ascendant above us.   In other words, we see a love above us that conquers death.   A power of grace that shatters evil.

Let us embrace that power today, taking it in our hands.

Get up, stand up, fight!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

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