If you read “Happy Ascension Day” and thought, huh?? You are not alone. Ascension Day is probably the least understood, least celebrated of the Christian feast days. You may know that the feast commemorates Jesus ascension into heaven. But you may also wonder what that means and why it is important.
You can read the Biblical accounts of the ascension in Luke 24:50-52 and Acts 1:6-11.
So when they [ the apostles] had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He 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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Acts 1:6-11 NRSV
So what do you think happened? Did Jesus leave? Well, yes and no.
Part of our difficulty with this passage has to do with the fact that we Americans do not have a monarchy along with a misunderstanding about the nature and reality of heaven.
What’s a monarchy got to do with this? Actually quite a bit. Monarchs ascend to their throne. Merriam-Webster defines ascension like this: the act of rising or ascending; especially : the act of moving to a higher or more powerful position.
In the ascension Jesus isn’t going away, he is taking possession of his Kingdom. When we speak of Christ the King or Jesus as Lord, we are claiming that Christ rules the world. Ascension is about enthronement not Jesus dramatically leaving us alone.
So where is Jesus going? The Apostle’s Creed tells us;
he [Jesus] ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Which brings us to heaven. If we are not careful, we can unthinkingly fall into the mistaken but quite common idea that heaven is some sort of future, disembodied place. Heaven is somewhere ( and here we might wave our arms around a bit) out there, away and “spiritual”. Someplace that only concerns us after death. Someplace we only think about at funerals. Someplace where our great grandmother “is”.
But this is not how people in Jesus time thought about heaven. Heaven is the place where God (or the gods) lived. Earth is the place where we humans live. And what happens on earth is reflected in heaven and visa versa. Remember what we say in the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father who art [is] in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
Heaven is a real place which exists right now. It is where Jesus is. King Jesus rules from heaven, now. When he ascended into heaven, he ascended to the throne to rule heaven and earth. When we say Jesus is Lord. This is what we are talking about. Certainly Jesus is Lord of our hearts, but also Jesus is Lord over all that is, all that has been, all that will be.
To recognize what the ascension is and what it means then involves some serious reflection about what we mean when we claim Jesus is Lord. Certainly when we look at the world around us, we might well wonder what sort of job Jesus is doing as King. And when we think about ascension and what it means, we also need to think seriously about what it means when we say Christ will come again. But these are topics for another day.
Today is Ascension Day. For Christians that means Christ is King, Christ is ruler. There are no other kings and rulers for us. Christ reigns over and above all earthly rulers. The Ascension of the Lord has social and political implications as well as theological ones. We now live as faithful followers, faithful subjects of Jesus. Modelling our lives after our King’s way of living- seeking justice, loving all, working for reconciliation.
Great and mighty God,
we praise you that Christ has ascended
to rule at your right hand.
We rejoice before the throne of his power and peace,
for he has put down tyrannies that would destroy us,
and unmasked idols claiming our allegiance.
We thank you that he alone is Lord of our lives.
By your Spirit,
give us freedom to love with his love,
and to embrace the world with his compassion.
Accept the offering of our lives,
that we may obey your commands to serve
in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
From: Book of Common Worship , Westminster/JohnKnox Press, 1993, page 335 Ascension of the Lord, Prayers of Thanksgiving
Read about the first image Ascension from Jesusmafa here
The second image is Christ Ascended into Heaven – Dome of Monastery in Mirozh Russia, Public Domain