I have never understood the mind of serial killers. I suppose that’s because whatever they had done went completely against my personal beliefs. They are often described as inhuman, almost as monsters. But what does it mean to be ‘human’? I think that we can sometimes be quick to define humanity to exclude people whose lives and crimes threaten us. We label some as ‘inhuman’ so that we don’t have to think of them as being like us, or face the idea that in other circumstances we could be like them! Some of our most serious ethical debates tackle the question of humanity.
This week we have the feast of the Ascension, a day when we celebrate humanity. The story of the Ascension relates what happened to Jesus after his resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead as a fully human person, recognisable as the same Jesus as he was before his crucifixion. But clearly, after his resurrection, Jesus didn’t hang around on earth as his work here was done. There quickly came a time when God’s presence, in the form of the Holy Spirit would carry on God’s work both within and around humanity.
The doctrine of the Ascension is very important to Christians to understand what it means to be human. The picture of Jesus ascending into the clouds tells us that Jesus, the man, had returned to God. Humanity had become part of God forever. After the resurrection and Ascension, Jesus didn’t stop being human. All that he was, all that we are, was taken into the nature of God. Human beings were always God’s creation, but the Ascension casts us in a different light: now we are truly in God.
So we are encouraged to value humanity highly and rightly. We are not perfect – humankind is capable of the utmost cruelty and violence. But we are worth redeeming, worth sending the Holy Spirit to, worth being taken up into the Godhead. We must take the hard, ethical questions seriously because they concern the humanity that God has taken to himself. We can be realistic about human nature, but we can also be optimistic about it. Our future is bound up with God’s future and, as with Jesus, the sky’s the limit!!