Note: The following is the revised text of a theological reflection I shared with my parish community, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina, during tonight’s livestream of An Order for Compline from the Book of Common Prayer.
Tonight, I suspend our “Easter Egg” hunt, our search for seeds or kernels of theological reflection about the meaning of Easter.
For today, Thursday, is Ascension Day, the fortieth day after Easter Day, when the Church celebrates, as professed in the Nicene Creed, that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father (and) will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
Scripture tells us: While (Jesus) was blessing (his disciples), he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24.51) and as (his disciples) were watching, (Jesus) was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (Acts 1.9).
What happened? How did Jesus ascend? I don’t know.
However, the fact is that the New Testament writers recorded it and the framers of the Creed included it as an essential Christian belief; thus, acknowledging something about Jesus. Therefore, the point is not what happened and how, but what the Ascension tells us about Jesus.
Recall the message of Christmas. The Word of God took flesh in Jesus of Nazareth as, according to Isaiah’s prophecy, “Immanuel,” “God with us.” This Jesus, known to his disciples on earth, whose humanity is like ours in every respect (Hebrews 2.17) is the same Jesus who ascends and will come again.
When Jesus ascended, he did not discard his humanity as some temporary form he adopted during his earthly life. Rather his humanity was freed from the fetters of time and space and exalted to eternity. Therefore, Jesus is God with us forever.
Our relationship and fellowship with Jesus are not bound by our memory of one who lived in the past, but rather found in our encounter with one who lives for all time; for Jesus no longer is in time.
The church, therefore, is no memorial society, but a living body of those who know the ever-living Jesus.
This means nothing less than Jesus, in glory, eternally continues his ministry. Therefore, today, salvation in Jesus is as fully offered as it was two millennia ago.
As Jesus’ crucifixion was the perfect payment of the penalty of our sin, so it is now.
As Jesus’ resurrection was the proof that the power of sin to bring death was destroyed, so it is now.
As Jesus’ ascension was the proclamation of the promise that all who believe will be exalted to eternity, so it is now.
And this, all this is good news!
Illustration: The Ascension of Jesus, John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
2 thoughts on ““He ascended into heaven” – An Ascension Day Reflection”
This was an awesome post in between the Easter Egg series!!!
I remember distinctly asking my grandmother when I was a young child how we really knew the Jesus ascended into heaven…
Her response has stuck with me to this day… she said “because our faith tells us he did”. And that was the end of that!!
Thank you for this post!! It really took me back!!
“(B)ecause our faith tells us he did.” Ah, oft I have wished that I had met and had known your grandmother. Still, more truth be told, I think, I believe that her word to you wasn’t “the end of that,” but rather the beginning. For when I reflect of much of what you write and share faith, your trust and confidence in God, whether you sense it to be great or small, questioning or assured, is central to your being. So, it seems to me that your grandmother helped launch you on your life’s pilgrimage of faith. Bless her. Bless you.