I couldn’t find an Ascension Day card at the grocery store this week. That surprised me because there is a greeting card for just about every occasion you can think of. Grandparents day; love your pet day. you name it; However there was a rumor floating around a few years ago that Hallmark came up with a proto-type for an Ascension Day card- on the front was a picture of Jesus levitating just above the ground, saying goodbye to his followers and then when you opened the card it said, “Beam me up Scottie.” but that didn’t go over too well with with the focus group.
The Ascension is a hard sell to our modern sensibilities. And so we ignore it or leave it alone. Of all the major Christian feasts it is the hardest for us to comprehend; not like the incarnation-who doesn’t love a baby or an image like the Good Shepherd which are easy to relate to; I mean how does one relate to God saying goodbye?
Despite the image problem, the Christian church has considered Jesus’ Ascension from its earliest days as a very important indeed crucial event otherwise we wouldn’t have “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” in the Nicene Creed and references like “recalling his death, resurrection and ascension we offer you these gifts” in our Eucharistic Prayers.
And here are several reasons why this is so:
- He ascended, the letter of the Ephesians tells us, “that he might fill all ” As the human Jesus is lifted up, he carries us with him; he lifts us up literally and figuratively. Which by the way is why every Sunday we respond to “Lift up your hearts”, with “we lift them up unto the Lord.” The Ascension celebrates the exaltation of Christ over the world, his triumph over sin and death, and the establishment of the new order which he brings, called the kingdom of God in the Bible- a reign, by the way, not of geography or politics, but one ruling over human hearts and minds. Because of this triumph, because the Jesus of History has now become the Ascended Christ, free from the limitations of being in a particular time and place nothing can separate us from his victorious love.
- Jesus physical removal is for Luke the condition for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Departs and soon, within days, God the Holy Spirit will be arriving. So long as Jesus was physically present he was available only to those he directly encountered. By the Spirit he became powerfully present to many throughout history and for all time starting with those confused, men and women he left behind to be his Those witnesses, through the power of the Spirit, changed the world.
What about for us? What is the good news of the Ascension for our lives here and now?
Despite all the jokes about up up and away, because of Christ’s Ascension and through the power of the Holy Spirit we can daily encounter Jesus and what he continues to do. We aren’t left staring at where Jesus used to be-whether in history, or in our own life experiences or in our own settled opinions and interpretations.
Because he ascended we continue to encounter Jesus through Word and Sacraments, through the fellowship of the Church, through our ministries especially with the poor, the neglected, the excluded, and the hurting. And because Jesus has ascended as our risen Lord, none of the departures we experience, departures of relationships, of health, or of life itself can harm us or rob us of God’s good promise to be with us always. For that we can and should celebrate The Ascension with praise and thanksgiving.