Scripture Readings: Acts 1:6–14 | Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35 |
1 Peter 4:12–14, 5:6–11 | John 17:1–11
Why is it exactly that we Christians celebrate the Ascension?
The story itself is strange enough: forty days after the miracle of Easter, when Jesus Christ overthrew the chains of death, becoming the firstborn of God’s New Creation, the Risen Lord is lifted up as His disciples gaze in wonder, until a cloud finally takes Him from their sight. It all seems so odd… so otherworldly… so disconnected from our day to day lives, even as we strive to live as Christ’s disciples today.
Why should we spend our time reflecting on this confusing part of Christ’s story? Surely there must be other, more pressing concerns for us to deal with?
And I mean, wouldn’t it be better for us if Jesus had just stuck around? It seems strange to celebrate His mysterious disappearance… especially with all the trouble down here on earth to attend to.
But for the first Christians, and for us today, the Ascension of Jesus the Risen Lord is actually an incredible gift of hope for our world that seeks to transform how we live today.
From the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Ascension of Jesus has been at the core of some of the most radical, and revolutionary claims ever made. And far from being seen as irrelevant, the Ascension was significant enough of an event to be included in both the Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Creed: the early Church’s attempts to define the heart of the Christian story for ages to come.
Just think, every week, millions of Christians around the world and throughout history have proclaimed their faith, affirming that after His resurrection, Jesus Christ: “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
So as strange as the Ascension might seem to us, perhaps we should spend some time trying to understand exactly what it means, for us and our world.
But to do that well, we need to turn to yet another part of the story of Jesus: the strange nature of His birth. Or as the Nicene Creed put’s it: His incarnation.
We say this word every week as well… but let’s stop and think about what it means. It comes from the Latin words “in” meaning “in”, and “caro” meaning “flesh”, the same word at the root of “carnivore”… that is, “flesh eater”, or “carnal”… meaning “mortal”. So “incarnate” means “in-the-flesh”: Jesus Christ “became in-the-flesh… and was made man.” Seems straightforward enough, I suppose.
That is, until we think about who it is exactly we are saying has become “in the flesh”! The “only Son of God”, we say with the Creed: the One who was “eternally begotten of the Father”… in other words, there was no such thing as time before Him! He is the One who is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”… everything true of God is true of Him. He was “begotten, not made,” that is, He is not a Creature, a part of Creation, but the One through whom “all things were made.”
And yet this One who was of “one being with the Father” became a human… stepping into Creation and taking on the reality of Creaturely life.
This may not sound all that strange to us, as we say these words week after week when we gather for worship… but to make this claim was to completely mess with how the universe was understood.
Think of it like this: imagine going to a movie, and watching the actors playing out a scene on the big screen. We can simply get caught up in the story the actors are playing out, or maybe we might start to think about all the work that went on behind the scenes… the writers, the producers, the directors who all played a part in creating the story, but did not step in front of the cameras and become a visible part of the film.
Now imagine as you sit there in the movie theatre, the sole writer, director, and producer of the film suddenly walks down the aisle, and somehow steps through the screen and starts taking part in the scene along with the other actors!
This is the kind of beautiful madness and mystery we’re talking about: God breaking down the walls we assumed were unbreakable. In short, in the very person of Jesus Christ, both the Creator and the Creation are now united. The beautiful truth of the incarnation is that Jesus Himself is God-and-Humanity… Heaven and earth… bound together… forever! If that blows your mind, you’re not alone.
And this is where the radical nature of the Ascension of Jesus fits in… with that little word: “forever.”
It’s not at all about Jesus leaving our world behind. The Ascension is about Jesus lifting up our world with Him.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ means that our Creator and His Creation are still united… and always will be.
After all, we Christians believe in the “in-carnation”… but there’s no “out-carnation.” Not stripping off of His humanity. Christ didn’t just ditch His resurrected body somewhere in the atmosphere. Whatever it means for Jesus to Ascend to Heaven, it doesn’t mean that.
Christ was raised to new life… not to become a disembodied spirit, but as the firstborn of God’s New Creation… with a resurrected body, still bearing His scars, and yet more real… more alive… more filled with God’s life-giving Spirit than ever before. Christ has passed through death, and come to life, not as a ghost, but as the start of a renewed Humanity, united to the life of the Living God.
The beautiful bond begun at His birth… in His incarnation… the bond between Heaven and earth was not broken by His death, nor was it set aside as He Ascended.
None other than Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, God-in-the-flesh, sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. And He will reign that way forever.
Ok… I’ll admit that was not all that straightforward, was it? But then again, most of the deepest truths we encounter in life are not straightforward either. Beauty can be complicated… confusing even, and yet still draw us in deeper into it’s mystery. We need not comprehend it completely to be moved by it… or even be transformed by it.
If there’s one thing you get from what I’ve said so far, I hope it is this: in Jesus Christ, the Living God has not abandoned the world but has bound Himself to His beloved Creation… and because Jesus is alive and will be forever, that bond will never be broken.
The Ascension of Jesus is not about Jesus stepping out of the world, it’s about Him raising it up! And reigning at the right hand of God the Father as the Saviour King of Creation.
If we simply think of the Ascension as Jesus leaving, we miss the point… which is where He is headed! He’s being lifted up… glorified… the Son of God, faithful even unto death, has now been highly exalted.
In a sense, the Ascension is like Christ’s cosmic coronation. The moment when His Kingship over God’s Creation was made clear to His disciples… and challenging what they expected God’s Kingdom to look like.
In Acts Chapter 1, the disciples had been hanging around with the Risen Jesus for some time now. Forty days, to be exact. But in that time, they still had their old assumptions about what Christ was doing, and what He had in store for them.
Acts 1:6, “when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
They expected the Kingdom of God to arrive in an instant. For the redemption of Israel, and the fulfillment of all the promises God had made through the prophets to suddenly transform the world. They were anxious to see what the Risen Christ would do to set the world back on track.
But Jesus had other plans… bigger plans… plans to not only bring God’s Kingdom to Israel, but to the whole earth… and to send out His disciples as His witnesses to bring this about. Acts 1:7-8, Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
They were to bear witness by the words they spoke and the lives they lived, that Jesus Christ really is the Risen Lord of all Creation. Like royal ambassadors, and heralds, proclaiming the beginning of a new King’s reign, Jesus would send His disciples out into the wide world to make His Kingdom known… to help His world that does not yet see Him as Lord to believe the Good News, and to share in the life of His Good Kingdom, which has already begun.
And this remains the calling of every Christian, including you and I: to speak and live each day as witnesses of the Risen Lord Jesus… sharing in the life of His Good Kingdom even now, and helping our world do the same.
And this is possible for us because our Lord Jesus Christ Himself remains with us through His Holy Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit’s power that the work of God’s Kingdom continues today.
The authors and theologians, Dr. Tim and Dr. Aaron Perry point this out in their book on the Ascension: “The promise of the Father, the gift for which [St. Luke tells us the] disciples are to wait, is revealed to be the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who will come in the end time to set all that is wrong to right, to pacify the warlike, and to render the land fruitful once again. This wonderful universal renewal of creation, Luke tells us, is now possible because of the ascension of Jesus.
Luke wants us to comprehend the coming of the Spirit as the earthly echo of the heavenly enthronement of the victorious Son. Jesus is the heavenly King and as such, he is absent. Through the coming of the Spirit, though, he remains present to his followers. The coming of the Holy Spirit, the promised power from on high, is the sign and guarantee of Jesus’ reign and the manner of Jesus’ continued presence.”
When we are tempted to think of Jesus our Lord as completely absent… as disconnected and detached from the cares of the world, and of our own struggles… when we can’t seem to see any signs of His Kingdom at work, remember His Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” Remember the gift of His holy presence and power, poured out on God’s people… a precious gift made possible because Christ has been lifted up.
We’ll have more to say about the Holy Spirit next week, as we celebrate Pentecost. But for now, it’s enough to remember that it’s through the Holy Spirit that Jesus our King reigns on earth… and it’s through the Spirit that His presence and power are made known in the lives of His people.
So how are we living by God’s Holy Spirit today? How are we bearing witness to His rule, here and now in Gondola Point?
We might not be sent across the world… but maybe we could go across the street? Or even start across the table?
For those of us who feel unsure of what we could do… can we start by devoting ourselves to prayer, and then let God’s Holy Spirit open up doors and lead the way?
The Ascension of Jesus is a message of hope for our world: that no matter how broken and dark things might get, God will never abandon His Creation. It’s future… our future rests firmly in the nail-pierced hands of the One through whom all things were created, and who through His resurrection power at work is making all things new.
So let us take courage. Christ Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth right hear and right now, even when we can’t see Him… and through His Spirit at work in us, we get to share in the life of His Kingdom, right hear and right now. Amen.
 The same wording is found in both the Apostle’s & the Nicene Creeds. Quoted from the Anglican Book of Alternative Services.
 Tim Perry & Aaron Perry, He Ascended Into Heaven: Learn to Live an Ascension-Shaped Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010), 45-46.
(Photo of Risen Christ taken at Rothesay Netherwood School, Rothesay, New Brunswick)
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School