There are some aspects of the Christian faith that are a little bit odd when you stop to think about them. We believe that a sea was parted so that the oppressed could walk free. We believe that a donkey spoke. We believe that a blind man was healed with a little bit of spit. We believe that our Messiah defeated death.
I affirm all of these statements with the entirety of my heart, but I am not naïve enough to say that they don’t sound a bit fantastical. I love that my faith can transcend (though it does not exclude) all the reason the human mind can muster—that is what makes it faith, after all.
One of these tenets of Christianity is the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven, which we celebrate today, on the 40th day of the Easter Season (39 days after Easter Sunday). The story is outlined in Acts 1:6-11
“They gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you sand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (NIV)
The story goes like this: Jesus came, Jesus died, Jesus was raised again, and Jesus ascended into heaven. But the story does not end here! As we see at the end of this passage, Jesus will be coming back in the same way they saw Him go.
Pretty unbelievable; but again, faith enters the picture.
So, once we become Christians and state this in our list of beliefs, what do we do with it? What does it mean for us to have a savior who ascended? Why does the Church worldwide celebrate this momentous day?
I’ve been doing some reflecting on these questions, and I have a few thoughts:
1. Jesus is alive, and so are we.
The first, and perhaps the most important, implication is that Jesus is alive right now. When He ascended, He had already shirked the gates of Hell and ushered in new life. He is the first fruit of the New Creation so, just as we will all one day live eternally, so He is living and breathing as we speak. We will follow in His footsteps and also have life eternal. This can be a difficult thing to fathom because Jesus feels so far away and ethereal, but He is flesh and blood, a fully redeemed and renewed body, who is alive and well and watching over us. This is good news, indeed!
2. Jesus is interceding for us.
The book of Romans assures us that Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)To intercede is to plead on one’s behalf. We intercede for our friends when we pray for them and Jesus intercedes for us when He affirms our worthiness into the ear of the Father. Jesus is our advocate and He is the only one worthy to assume that role. He is there as the symbol of our freedom, a marker that those who call upon the name of God will be saved. In short, Jesus is now the go-between. He is the bridge who invites us into relationship with Divinity and is untiring in His speaking up on our behalf.
3. Jesus will come again.
The fact that we have an ascended, risen Lord means that He is not only alive, not only interceding for us, but also poised and ready to return when the time is right. In the passage that we read, the angels who appeared affirmed that He will come back in the same way He went. When He does, the throne on which He now sits in Heaven will be forever established on Earth and all darkness, sin, and death will be gone. When we look at the broken world around us, this might be the hardest part of the story to believe. But I heard an insight this week (I think it was Tom Wright?–forgive my lack of reference!) that stated that, as Kingdom people, we are not sitting in a dark room waiting for someone to light a candle. Rather, we have seen the sun rise and we are confident that full daylight is on its way. Jesus will come again, the sun will reach the heights of perfect day.
4. We have the Holy Spirit.
The final exhortation for Easter people with a living, ascended God: go and tell! When Jesus went up, the Holy Spirit came down. Not only does this mean that we have a comforter and friend in the very presence of God that lives within us, it also means that we have the power to be witnesses to this story. While we wait for Him to return, fully embodied and fully glorious, we are to let as many people in on this beautiful narrative as possible. Our aid and power in this is the Holy Spirit, who is power and light and healing this side of Paradise and beyond. If we trust the Spirit and live in Her influence, we will find our greatest joy in bringing God glory.
Happy Ascension Thursday, friends! Having a risen and ascended savior makes all of the difference. Live in that strange and glorious reality today and be at peace.