There is a somewhat flat "worship song" called "Lord, We Lift Your Name on High." Don't get me wrong, there are much worse worship songs out there. Much, much worse. But I've always found this one a bit dull.
I flipped on Christian radio the other day and heard just a snippet of this one and turned it back off. The snippet I heard was "from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky. Lord, we lift your name on high."
It suddenly struck me that in reaching for a rhyme there the lyricist has said something that is just not true. Jesus most certainly did not go from the grave to the sky. He rose again the third day and spent the next forty days on earth with his disciples, offering them what Luke calls "many infallible proofs" of his truly being risen from the dead. Only then did he ascend into heaven. That's why the Feast of the Ascension is forty days after Easter.
I don't think the lyricist was trying to make any heavy point. I'm sure it was just a chance result of the rhyme scheme. But I would say that the statement that Jesus went from the grave to the sky, however one happens to make it, is rather importantly wrong. Whatever some works of art may seem to portray, Jesus didn't float up out of the grave into the sky without being seen. The grave was, of course, not a hole in the ground. It was a tomb with a doorway. The angel moved the gravestone, and presumably Jesus walked out. From subsequent events when Jesus entered the upper room through locked doors, we know that he didn't actually need the stone moved, but the more important point is that he walked at all after the resurrection. He walked on earth. His feet left real footprints. He ate (and cooked) fish. He was real and tangible, not a ghost or a vision.
Some theologians actually do seem to believe that Jesus went directly "from the grave to the sky." They have evolved what is known as the "objective vision theory" which quite clearly conflates the Resurrection and the Ascension and has Jesus going on to "another plane of existence" or something like that with his Father in heaven at the resurrection. All the disciples' experiences after that are put down to some kind of visions connected with heavenly telegrams being sent down to them from the resurrected Christ. But that is not biblical doctrine at all. I discussed the objective vision theory and the conflation it embodies between the Resurrection and the Ascension here at What's Wrong With the World. I also got in a few whacks at the objective vision theory in my article in this volume. (Yes, the volume is disgustingly expensive. I don't get a penny from that fact.)
Anyway, the purveyors of the objective vision theory are a lot more to blame than a lyricist just trying to write a rhyme. The former, after all, are theologians, and people are likely to take their solemn theological pronouncements seriously as (supposedly) the results of special scholarly knowledge. Be not many teachers, knowing that they shall receive the greater judgement.
Still, it doesn't hurt to get our song rhymes right, too.
So--not from the grave to the sky. From the grave to the earth. Back to the earth of dust and water and bread and fish. Back to the earth to show his closest friends, and through them all of mankind, that he is risen. He is risen indeed!
(This Easter message was brought to you in the middle of Trinitytide for no particular reason.)