Note: Ascension Day, commemorating the Christian belief of the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven, one of the ecumenical (i.e., universally acknowledged) observances of western Christianity, on par with Palm Sunday, Easter Day, and the Day of Pentecost, traditionally falls on a Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter Day; this year, May 30, 2019.
Luke the evangelist wrote, “(Jesus) led (his disciples) out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”(1)
Luke, in his second work, the Acts of the Apostles, wrote, “as (his disciples) were watching, (Jesus) was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”(2)
And, according to the Nicene Creed, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
In seeking to understand what happened and how, I, at the least, have two choices; each an extreme. I can accept these accounts as factual. The disciples saw Jesus rise from the earth and lost sight of him as he passed through the skies. Or I can regard these narratives as literal, too literal; rejecting any thought of the astronomic movement of Jesus’ body through the celestial vacuum of space.
Yet, in the light of the wholly unknowable mystery of God, when I ponder what happened and how, I, standing in the shadow of my ignorance, must confess that I don’t know.
However, for me, the crux of the matter of the meaning of the ascension rests on the demonstrable fact that the writers of the New Testament recorded it and the framers of the Nicene Creed included it as an essential Christian belief, thereby, acknowledging something about Jesus. Thus, for me, the point is not so much what happened and how, but what the ascension tells me about Jesus.
Following this line of thought, I recall the central message of Christmas that the Word of God took flesh, becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth (verily, in the words of Isaiah 7.14, “Immanuel,” that is, “God with us”). Now, in his ascension, this Jesus, known to his disciples on earth, whose humanity is like ours in every respect,(3) is the same Jesus who ascended into heaven.
In other words, in ascending, Jesus did not discard his humanity as some transient form, much less, a temporary camouflage adopted solely during his earthly ministry, but rather his humanity was freed from the fetters of time and space and exalted to eternity. Therefore, Jesus, “God with us,” is God with us forever.
Therefore, my relationship and my fellowship with Jesus are not bound by my memory of one who lived in the past, but rather are found in my encounter with one who lives for all time, for he no longer is in time.
Thank you, Jesus!
(1) Luke 24.50-51
(2) Acts 1.9
(3) Hebrews 2.17
Illustration: Ascension of Christ (1893), Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939)