Ascension: The Coronation of the Risen Messiah
|by Pastor Hans Dumpys
On May 26, forty days after Easter, we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord. This festival of the Church became a gradually established tradition since the late fourth century.
Permit me to focus briefly and with critical eyes of faith on some of the biblical witness to the ascension. Luke has two short references: “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven” (24:51), and in Acts 1:9, “And when he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” From Mark we have this reference: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (16:19).
The word cloud in the quotation from Acts has a particular meaning, as it does for other biblical writers. It symbolizes the manifestation of the presence and glory of God. The Hebrew word shekinah describes the form of a luminous glowing cloud which rested wherever there was the presence of God. So the cloud in the ascension witnesses to the presence and glory of God. The Acts account implies a visible ascent intending to portray the unseen exaltation of the Risen One to the place of honor at the right hand of the Father.
Other references and allusions to the ascension in the New Testament come from St. Paul. In Philippians 2, Paul sings of Christ’s exaltation in terms of his universal authority: “Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (v.9-10). And in Ephesians he goes further, seeing the heavenly enthronement as the present exaltation of all who are in Christ: “and raised us up with him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus” (2:6). This is what it means for the church to be filled with Christ’s fullness. (4:7-13)
The early church had to contend with the widespread heresy of gnosticism, which asserted that the material world and the body are evil, that Jesus came to enlighten humans on how to free themselves from the bondage to the evil world. Preaching against this heresy helped the church to affirm the gospel of Christ’s bodily incarnation, bodily suffering, bodily death, bodily resurrection, and bodily ascension. The faith of the apostolic church denied salvation as a spiritual escape and instead proclaimed the redemption and transfiguration of life in all its cosmic totality.
The apostolic church heralded that Jesus had been enthroned as universal Lord and Messiah. The exalted Christ has “entered his glory” (I Tim. 3:16). From now on “all things are subject to his authority” (Phil. 3:21). Because he is ascended, his life extends beyond Palestine and his loving authority extends over all creation, present wherever and whenever the faithful gather in his name. The Ascension ought not to lead us to wonder where Jesus has gone, rather it ought to elicit the psalmist’s question: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
Through our union with Christ we also share in his ascension. Our lives are forever located in Christ. When Jesus ascends to the Father, he takes our humanity with him. In the ascended Jesus, our nature has taken up residence in the presence of God.
That ought to be worth celebrating each year on the sixth Thursday after Easter!
Grace Church will celebrate Ascension with a service of Holy Communion on Thursday, May 26, at 7pm.
Scripture lessons for Ascension can be found here.