Ascension Day: ‘The Rise and Fall of God’
Luke 24:36-53 (Acts 1:4-11)
Ascension Day! I know, I know, most of us are like: Say that again!
Most of us who have been Christians for some time now and heard of this strange thing called ‘The Ascension of Jesus,’ but, if truth be told, we treat it like we treat a Big Issue seller: We know it’s there, but we can’t wait to get passed it and onto other things.
And even when we do, for a brief moment, consider the ascension of Jesus, we will most likely have those embarrassing images from film and TV in our heads of that awkward moment when Jesus is blessing his disciples, hand raised (as we see in much post-Enlightenment art), as he is strangely lifted into the sky, and hid behind a fluffy cloud. If we’re not laughing at how silly it looks on the screen, we’re certainly left wondering if it really happened like that!
And so the Ascension of Jesus has become like that embarrassing uncle everyone avoids at weddings. It becomes a footnote in history and to the gospel story we tell. By all means mention the teaching and the cross and the resurrection and the reign of Jesus, but….well, the ascension is more than a tad embarrassing.
The Ascension is possibly the most neglected event in evangelical theology. We do Christmas quite well (does get a bit repetitive though), and Easter is a Big One. Of course, one problem is the bizarre way we imagine how it happened, since the film and TV images we’ve been fed have implanted a rather silly picture of a floating Messiah, hands raised Icon-like in blessing, getting higher and higher. If you don’t burst out laughing you’re a better person than me! We need to ditch those images and think more clearly on meaning and significance.
Yet the Ascension is a hugely significant aspect of Christ’s work. As the resurrection validates the Cross, so the ascension validates the resurrection. As many Psalms affirm, God now reigns, He is King!
The Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed all affirm that Jesus ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. This is hugely significant, not to mention the way Luke ends his gospel (pt1) with the ascension, and begins Acts (pt2) with it, as well as 1 Tim 3:16, that Jesus “appeared in the flesh . . . [was] taken up in glory.”
A fourth century Bishop, Maximus of Turin wrote of the ascension:
“The mystery of the Lord’s Ascension, dear brothers, has ordained today’s festival. Let us rejoice that the Only-begotten of God came to earth for the redemption of all and let us be glad that He entered heaven for our immortality.
For this is the truth of our saving faith that we believe in His Passion and do not deny His glory. Nor indeed is the essence of the miracle such that He who came from heaven returned to heaven, but that He brought to the Father the manhood which he had assumed from earth.
The earth rejoices when it sees its Redeemer reigning in the heavens; heaven is glad because it has not lost its God which it had, and has received the manhood which it had not.”