Learning to Tell the Story
By Mike Watson
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Did Jesus truly rise into heaven as described here? Did Jesus physically rise from the dead at all? How is any of this physically possible?
At the end of the move *SPOILER ALERT*, Edward is moments away from dying, with Will at his side. Exasperated and unable to fully talk, he asks his son Will about how he will die. Suddenly, Will realizes the importance of stories, of giving life and death meaning. So he proceeds to tell a story of his own, a story of his father's death. The following is what he tells (again, spoilers, if you haven't seen the movie and want to at some point, I urge skipping the clip for now):
You've heard the questions, seen the debates. We've become so obsessed with details of Jesus' life, determining what is historically accurate and what is simply story metaphor. Groups like the Jesus Seminar Forum, have been working to get to the root of such issues. Often at the heart of a lot of these debates is the story of Jesus rising into heaven. There are many difficult details to wrestle with on a historical/scientific level. For one, is heaven truly up above the clouds somewhere where Jesus was going? This makes sense in context of an early understanding of the world, where the heavens existed above the flattened dome structure that they believed to be the world. Another difficult detail is around the supernatural character of Jesus, which is extremely hard for us to relate to in our time and place.
Amidst these conversations, one thing we have without a doubt, is a story. As a person of faith, these stories, for me, are inspired by God and have a truth to them that can't necessarily be explained scientifically or historically. Yet, they are truths in their meaning for my life, and for many others.
This particular story is Luke's account of Jesus' final interaction with his disciples. The disciples have had some time with their risen savior, yet the time had come for him to go. What is next? How will they carry on? Surely they were struck with fear and anxiety at what happens next, as the ending to Mark gospel expresses so vividly. Yet, the disciples move on from this event, back into their daily lives, daily blessing the Lord.
Those of us who have lost a parental figure, an inspirational boss, or a mentor can surely relate to the fear of losing someone significant. What do you do when the person you have been following moves on? How do you find the courage to move ahead, to carry their story on?
One of my favorite movies of all time is the Tim Burton directed Big Fish. The story follows Will Bloom as he cares for his dying dad, Edward Bloom. Edward is known for his stories. In fact, it's about all he does at his age, tell stories of his own life. Will has become estranged from his father simply because he can't relate to him anymore, feeling frustrated by the lack of details and half-truths in his stories. Now, his father is dying and Will seems lost in trying to explain the legacy of his father, and what it means for his own life.
As Edward is on his deathbed one evening, he turns to his son William and asks him to tell the story of how he dies. William is stressed, and is about to call the nurse to take care of him, before realizing that this is the end, and what his father needs is a conclusion to his story. So he begins to finish his father's story for him, telling him about how he dies, and the beauty that surrounds the celebration of his life, as all his friends are there to see him go. As William is telling the story, you witness a transformation, where he realizes the specifics of the story aren't as important as the meaning.
Will had come to realize that his father told stories not because he was trying to hide details or make himself look more important than who he was, but rather because he knew that stories had greater meaning and depth. He realized that the proper response to the passing of his father was to continue the story, to express how much his father loved other people, and how they loved him in response. To express the love between he and his own father. At the very end of the movie, a few years later, Will's own son is heard telling some of the stories that were told originally by his grandfather. Will had learned how to tell stories, how to express meaning, depth, and love, passing it on to his own family.
As Jesus left his disciples, Luke tells us that the disciples had learned to tell the story, back in their cities, in their temples, blessing God along the way. The rest of the Biblical witness points to the telling of stories, to the expression of Jesus' love for all people.
So how shall we tell the story? What is important for us in the gospel, how does it shape us, how does it shape the world? When we can express this in word and action, we are telling the story of Christ, who blesses us along the way.