Cloud rider

April 28, 2008

After Jesus has been taken up in a cloud , the “men in white” convey a
message of hope to the disciples: this Cloud Rider will return in the
same way they saw him go. The cloud that carried Jesus away was the
power and presence of God, the Ancient of Days. It is a powerful
metaphor for God, and reminds us of other metaphors, and other
encounters.

God was present with Moses at Mt. Sinai in a cloud
that covered the mountain, and “the glory of the Lord” appeared “like a
devouring fire on the top of the mountain.” Moses met with God in a
“tent of meeting” where a “pillar of cloud” covered the tent or stood
at its entrance. Moses’ face-to-face encounter with God was so
transformative that his face shone and he had to cover it with a veil
(Ex. 24: 15-18; 33: 7-11; 34:29-35).

God was present in a cloud
in Jesus’ life on the mountain at the day of the transfiguration, when
Jesus’ face, like Moses’ face, changed while praying to God. That day a
cloud overshadowed Jesus and the apostles, and they went into the
cloud. God spoke from inside the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my
Chosen; listen to him!”

We call Jesus both Son of God and Son of
Man. What does the “Son of Man” title reference? To better understand,
let's go back to the time of Daniel. Daniel saw a vision of a series of
imperial rulers represented as gruesome beasts. There was a lion with
eagles’ wings, a bear with tusks, a beast with four wings and four
heads, and a beast with iron teeth that chewed and mauled everything in
its path.

Then “the Ancient One took his throne” and the
beast-like, arrogant ruler was destroyed. Daniel saw “one like a Son of
Man (“one like a human being, “ NRSV). This Son of Man, this human
being, was given “dominion and glory and kingship” over “all people,
nations, and languages” (Dan. 7:9-14).

I think there is
something significant in the fact that one like a human being became
the true and enduring ruler after a series of beast-like rulers fell.
There is something about humanity and mercy and justice and humility
all wrapped up in this human-like ruler.

In Daniel, the Son of
Man comes to the Ancient One in clouds, but Jesus himself spoke of the
Son of Man coming in clouds to the people, to bring redemption (Luke
21:27-28). When the angels in Acts 1 promise that Jesus will come back
they are affirming that he is the Son of Man, he is the Cloud Rider,
the king who has not lost his humanity to become an arrogant
beastlike-ruler.

King Nebuchadnezzar learned about this humanity
when he was exiled , his human mind taken from him because of his own
arrogance and lack of mercy. Finally he found his humanity and humility
as a ruler, regained his throne, and proclaimed the justice and truth
of the King of heaven.

When the men in white confirm that the
Cloud Rider will be back, they are also affirming that unjust kingdoms
and arrogant leaders ultimately fall. What never changes is that God,
is in ultimate control and gives authority to the just and the humble.

The
kingdom of God is here now, Jesus said in Luke 17:21, and people will
come from east and west, from north and south, to sit at table in the
kingdom of God. Even the Cloud Rider, Jesus himself, will drink of the
fruit of the vine at that table (Luke 22:18).