A Gathering Voices Post by Don McKim
I’ve always been a theological fan of the Ascension.
This key concept is passed over briefly in the Apostles’ Creed in just four words: “He ascended into heaven” (three, in Latin: ascendit ad coelos). It marks the transition between the earthly life of Jesus Christ and his heavenly life in the eternal Trinity.
It is easy to by-pass the Ascension. The biblical accounts (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11) present a curious picture of Jesus rising up from earth in the presence of his disciples, until the clouds hid him and he wasn’t seen again. In our day of space travel in space vehicles, we wonder how such a scene could have occurred. But if “resurrection” happened; why not “ascension”?
In churches, Ascension Day, commemorating this event and celebrated some forty days after Easter, falls on a Thursday (May 17, 2012) and goes by without any notice in most churches. We have Christmas poinsettas and Easter lilies—but what do we have for Ascension Day?
Twenty years I wrote a little piece on the Ascension which was published in the May 18, 1992 issue of Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/mayweb-only/5-21-12.0.html?start=1). It was titled “The Grand Farewell”—which was not my original title and it was edited and embellished to jazz up my more sober prose! But in it I tried to spin out some of the basic theological dimensions of our confession that Jesus “ascended into heaven.” Since these have continuing importance, here is a very brief synopsis.
1. Christ opens the way to the heavenly kingdom. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed and himself was, is now present on earth because Jesus has ascended. The way to heaven, blocked by the sin of Adam and our personal sins, is now opened by the work of Jesus Christ.
2. Christ has become our Advocate and Intercessor. As redeemed sinners, our continuing advocate with God is the risen and ascended Christ (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:34). Jesus opens the way to God, whom we can approach unafraid.
3. Christ gives us his power. The powers of sin, death, and evil have been broken in the victory of Jesus Christ. Now, the one who “sits at the right hand of God” gives us his power, through the Holy Spirit. The power of Christ to love is given to us, to love others. Christ is our constant companion.
The Ascension is the final step in ratifying the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation. In this sense, the Ascension looks back (#1). Jesus Christ opens our future in the presence of God as our advocate and intercessor, enabling our prayers to be heard, our sins to be forgiven. In this sense, the Ascension looks ahead (#2). In the here and now, Christ’s power (which is the power of God) is given to us to live as he modeled life should be, showing love, justice, peace and working for reconciliation. In this sense, the Ascension looks to the present (#3). There is no wider or more comprehensive vision of Christian life: past, present, and future than what the Ascension of Jesus Christ points us toward!
So get ready to celebrate Ascension Day! Our destiny is assured in God’s reign. Our worship and prayers are heard by God through Christ. The powerful love by which he reigns in the world is ours for ministry in the here and now through the Holy Spirit.
Thank God that “he ascended into heaven”!