A tulip for ascension Sunday
Welta Weltur c1935, Ilford HP5+
The last frame on the roll of sixteen is a photograph of a solitary tulip in front of our house. It seemed an appropriate post for today, not so much for the direct symbolism as for the questions it raises.
We think of flowers, in particular perennials, as symbols of Easter as they seemingly rise from the dead and push up through the dirt to bloom in the sunshine. Except that the flowers were dead only in a manner of speaking, not in reality. Except that, figuratively or not, the flowers will die again come Fall and Winter. It’s hard to think of the disciples getting all that excited about a resurrected Jesus who had not really been dead or who, after rising from the dead, died again or, as some would have it, settled down and raised a family with Mary Magdalene.
But then, what did happen? Matthew, Mark and John don’t say. Matthew’s and John’s accounts end with a victorious, risen Jesus commissioning the eleven disciples but don’t choose to tell us more. Mark’s account ends with a resurrected Jesus and terrified and faithless disciples. Even if some pious soul later added a rather fanciful ascension account, it seems Mark’s intent was to leave us pondering. Clearly the existence of a church for Mark to write to requires that something drastic happened. The disciples, implies Mark, were not the ones to make it happen. He leaves us pondering.
Only Luke the historian and theologian gives us an explicit ascension account, briefly at the end of his gospel and somewhat less briefly at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. The eleven apostles (literally, sent out ones) are left with a pair of promises, Jesus’ promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to fill them with the power to be his witnesses and emissaries, and the angels’ promise that Jesus would himself one day return in the same way they had seen him depart. The fulfillment of the first promise and the anticipation of the second are the foundation of the rest of the book of Acts and, indeed, of the rest of the New Testament.
So now what, Tulip? Where do we go from here? “It’s beyond me,” smiles the tulip, and turns the question back to us, to me and to you.