Last Thursday was Ascension. This, as Luke-Acts tells us, was when after 40 days of making himself known to the disciples, proving that he was alive and teaching them about the kingdom of God, Jesus entered into heaven where he now “sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.” I have never heard a sermon preached on the Ascension or even been part of a local congregation that observed Ascension. I doubt I am alone in this. Well, tomorrow I am preaching on the Ascension. I’m not sure why other than I’m sure I must.
As I have been pondering and meditating upon the ascension of Jesus I have found myself asking a variety of questions: How was Jesus taken up? Where did he go to? What in the world, or in this case heaven, does the ascension have to do with me? After thinking along these lines I realized that perhaps I was asking the wrong questions. I know I am not alone in asking these questions so I don’t really feel foolish. Dennis Kinlaw found himself asking, “How far did Jesus go?” and “How long did it take Jesus to get there?”, and then he realized he was asking the wrong questions as well.
I think the question I should ask is this, What does the ascension say about God? When I started thinking about the ascension in this way then it became clear to me that the ascension is one more way in which this passionate Lover (God) offers himself to his beloved (us, God’s creation). The ascension is in fact a great act of love, another chapter in God’s story of offering himself, making himself available, to his fallen creation. The story begins in Genesis where God creates out of his very being a creature made in the image of God that is capable of receiving love and offering love. God walks with this creation until they receive and offer love wrongly. Then God, who is always working toward making himself available, takes the first steps in rescuing this creature.
The love story continues as God makes himself known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then to their descendants as he is present with them in fire and smoke leading them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. God makes himself available to his people through the voice of the Judges, the Kings and the Prophets. Then, in the fullness of time as Paul states it, God offered himself in the most visible and tangible means possible by becoming flesh and blood. The Lover becomes like the beloved in all aspects. Love is at its peek upon the cross and proves itself more powerful than death in the resurrection. However, God is not satisfied to remain with his beloved as the resurrected Jesus. There is more to the story. God’s love for his creation compels him to offer more.
What more could he possible give? He gave his Son’s life. Now he desires to live not among us, but in us. This is the beauty of the ascension. Because Jesus emptied himself of his divine nature, took on the form of a slave by becoming human, was obedient unto death on a cross, was raised and ascended into heavenhe now sits at the right hand God interceding on our behalf and offers his life to us through the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul can say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
The Ascension, when viewed this way, is not a separate event from the resurrection but a continuation of God’s self-giving love being poured out upon us. In some mysterious way Jesus’ absence makes him more available. Isn’t that getting close to the heart of love? – being available and present. I realize that the Ascension is not the end of the story. There will be a time when Christ not only lives in us through the Holy Spirit, but will be visibly present as well. When he returns and finalizes his rescue and renewal mission then we shall know the full extent of God’s love and discover that it was even deeper than we first imagined.
So, for now, I will pray that Jesus opens my mind and my eyes to see his presence in my life and in the life of my church. I will seek him out in the reading and proclamation of the scriptures. I will seek him out in the gathering of his people (where two or three are gathered in my name I will be with them). I will remember that in baptism he is present and active. I will seek him in the breaking of bread as he declared, “this is my body … this is my blood.” I will rest assure that God’s love for me is far deeper than I could ever imagine and that Jesus’ ascension was not a sign of him running away from a world that he could not fix, but the means by which he was able to offer himself more fully to his creation.