The Post-Christ and the Ascension

The following is part of an essay I am proposing for some conferences, titled “The Passing of the Peace: The Ascension after the Death of God.”  Here I am working through a notion of the Post-Christ, which is the reality of Christ between the resurrection and the ascension.  The bottom line here is questioning the absolute exigency of the resurrection in most radical theologies, that it seems to me that the “Christ-event” is more than the resurrection.  Is the resurrection the main act?  Or is there something radical to be disclosed if we do not stop reading at the resurrection, and on to the ascension (and later, Pentecost)?

With the arrival of the first fruits of the Post-Christ and the New Creation with the event of the resurrection, old thinking about the divine must transfigure, as the Christ-event has fundamentally changed any conception of God in such a cataclysmic way that a new post-Temple epoch may be conceived.  After all, “death” is an “impossible” concept for the Post-Christ, according to the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:24.  We should recall that in the apocalypse of 2 Baruch, after the destruction of the first temple, the angels inhabited the real, spiritual temple.  Given Luke’s nostalgia for the recently-destroyed Temple, could it be possible that the ascension is a ritual exercise recalling the post-Temple apocalypse of 2 Baruch?[1] Even though the ascension is an upward movement, it is an ascension into a temporally destroyed temple, an apocalyptic ascension in a post-resurrection world that is a final symbolic movement of an actual dissolution of Godhead into flesh.

Turning to the Deutero-Pauline epistle to the Ephesians, the Post-Christ is described as having “put all things under his feet” and been “made…the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).  Although “Paul” speaks of these in “the age to come” (1:21), the Gospel and apocalyptic narratives place this authority in the present.  Returning to the authentic Pauline epistles, again we find that Christ is “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28) a total presence, remaining fully divine as entangled enfleshment.[2]

A radical Christology must recognize that the ministry of Jesus formally begins with the tearing open of sky at his baptism, with Spirit descending “upon him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22).[3] The Christ narrative ends (as the Luke chapter of the Luke-Acts continuum ends) with the tearing open of sky again with the post-resurrection Post-Christ being carried away.  The popular Jewish metaphysics of the time that understood the sky as an impenetrable limit should not be ignored in these images.[4] In both of these moments the breeching of Absolute Hymen in the act of creation is recalled, but also what is rendered as Pharisaical metaphysics of the time are challenged as a consequence of the death of God. As such the ascension is again a descent into Hell, transfiguring any remnant of the Pre-Christ notion of static, nondiachronal Godhead.  The ascension of the Post-Christ christens the new Christs; the ascension prepares the newly-enfleshed for Christic anointing.

To follow this theology, the Day of Pentecost is again the tearing open of sky, kenotic filling of Spirit as Christ as filled, speaking with “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:1ff.).  It should be noted that on Pentecost the hymenic sky is not closed but open only for downward movement of Spirit. The Church of the New Creation Now Occurring, which begins at the Day of Pentecost, tastes the abysmal openness and vacuousity of transcendence with tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church.  This continual downward movement, Luke tells us, is a “violent” act (Acts 2:2).

If the Church of the New Creation Now Occurring, a Pentecosting Church, is filled with tongues of fire, can there truly be peace?  First, Luke makes clear that the Pentecost is universal to the hexity of the Church, but not necessarily universal to humanity as the universal gift of which Tillich spoke.  Secondly, the divinity of this Church of the New Creation is enfleshed and is not a transcendence.  As a community, this Church may anthropologically understand itself as self-transcending in the Tillichian sense, but transcendence remains a trace of the forward and downward movement, culminating in the resurrection of the Christ and the ascension of the Post-Christ.  The Church diachronically occurs after the Post-Christ; the Church exists contingently upon the presence of the Holy Spirit, a wind or breath speaking out of the nothing of false pentecosts happening around us.

Third, a radical Pentecosting church thrives on hope, that is, hope for an actual parusia, and hope against all odds.  This hope is not, as Tillich implies, neither an esoteric hope nor a hope believed that is strengthened by its un-believability.  Rather, it is an extraordinary hope that is impossible apart from the reality of a final and ultimate joy.  This eucatastrophic hope is one that grafts the individual into the apocalyptic history of Godhead, as an apocalyptic individual in Paul’s epistolary historiography of Galatians; but also an ecclesiastical hope modeled upon the hope for Pentecost following the ascension.  This is to say, such hope is a hope for perpetual Pentecosting.

Is peace then possible in a radical Christian theology?  Peace, in the intransitive sense, as silence, is possible, but is the negation of Pentecosting tongues of fire.  The practice of peace within radical liturgical environments is, however, essential for the Church of the New Creation as a dialectical action to fuel and contrast with the speaking of fire.  The danger of peace is the complicity of being devoid of fire—that is, the current state of the church as a whole—yet peace is necessary for the practice of radical Christianity, to reflect upon the stillness, solitude, and solipsism of radical faith in public.  Silence, when deafening, is a powerful noise.  The peace practiced by radical Christians, then, is not an absence of fire but is often the piercing of the Babel of nothingness in the world.

Radical Christian peace is an apocalyptic peace practiced in the present as a conduit for radical Christian community.  Peace is the kindling of hope, as peace is granted by the enfleshed to the enfleshed through liturgical action which eroticizes the banal; peace is a restoration and healing practice that fills our tongues with fire once again, again and again.  Peace may be experienced in solitude, but is resurrected in and through community (that is, through extraordinary ecclesia).  Peace may be conceived, as Tillich did, as a possibility for a final, post-Pentecostal epoch, but radical Christian peace is not exclusive to the future, and is not a state but a practice that generates hope.  As mystery praxis, peace is Pentecost Craft.  Pentecosting is not an everlasting task but one that culminates into the parusia, marching onto something again New, as in Habakkuk 3, where finally, after the Christ again appears, his grace “be with all the saints” (Rev. 22:21).

Therefore, as a restored and resurrected people, let us restore and resurrect each other by passing the peace of Christ, even as the nothing in which we often abide is devoid of peace:  May the peace of Christ be with you.

[1] Richard Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Luke (Cleveland:  Pilgrim, 2006), 145-146

[2] Altizer, Descent into Hell, 107.

[3] It should also be mentioned, following the earlier discussion of forward-and-downward movement that the symbol of the bird here is connected to the resurrected “Post-Christ” as the Pauline “first fruit,” namely, that birds played a role in adorning the sacrifice of the ancient Hebrew “first fruits,” as presented to the Temple.  This ritual is described in Deuteronomy 26, but the role of birds is depicted in the Talmud, Bikkurim 3.

[4] Swanson, 144.

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