Hulu’s original series The Path takes us into the life of a spiritual community that holds at its center the vision of a ladder and challenges individuals to climb the rungs to get closer to what they call the Light.
And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Images of ladders and staircases taking us to heaven abound:
The spiritual: We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, Soldier of the cross.
Jacob’s dream in Bethel: Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And, of course, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven :
There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
But Jesus assures us that our closeness to God comes not from going up a ladder; the ladder image from Bethel does not appear in Jesus’ declaration that we will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. He makes it clear that the angels – and we – ascend and descend not on a structure, but on the very body of Christ. Nothing between us. No ladder, no stairway. Just Christ and the angels and us. Skin to skin.
A friend recently spent about 15 minutes one morning watching a stag grazing in her back yard, evoking the image for her of the Patronus – a being in the Harry Potter books who serves as a shield, providing protection for the guarded one, even willingly giving itself up to be eaten to keep the other safe. Truly a Christ-like being. A shield. Skin to skin. And this skin-to-skin love lives not only in life beyond death and not only in Harry Potter’s universe.
But with us here and now: A friend’s sister lay in her hospice bed cradled on both sides by her beloved Dobermans as they – emanating warmth, companionship and support – gently helped carry her over the threshold. Skin to skin.
Other friends: I watch as they provide guidance and support to a woman who needs care from others as she makes her way through life. Skin to skin.
And me. When God called me away from parish ministry in 1998 to focus on developing servant-leaders, I went for many years without belonging to a particular faith community. I worked at various churches, but I longed for a regular group with whom I could share prayers, sing hymns, celebrate and receive the Eucharist. As I wandered through the wilderness, I felt alone, bereft, but I found that when everything was stripped away, Jesus was still there with me. Just as he has promised you, me and all of us for all time. Skin to skin.