Category Archives: Ascension

The Ascension – Jesus is ‘not on sabbatical!’

Icon of the Ascension
Icon of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension, deserves more attention, as we were reminded in last Sunday’s sermon, Is Jesus Really in Charge? Someone has said, “Ascension isn’t Jesus ‘on sabbatical’ until the Second Coming!” It marks, after Jesus’s conquest of death, his cosmic exaltation.

In the Anglican and other traditions, prayers often end with reference to Jesus “who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, Amen.” He “lives” because of his resurrection, but “reigns” because of his ascension.

After preaching Sunday, I was reminded that Douglas Farrow wrote a whole book on the theology of the Ascension. Here is a wonderful excerpt from his recent article in First Things.

For what does…the Ascension present to us, if not the fact that God has committed to Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth? What does it propose to us, if not a corresponding revision of all our own categories and a reorientation of all our own commitments? What does it rebuke in us, if not our very secularity (in the deceptive, compartmentalizing sense that word has recently taken on)? We no longer know what the “secular” is, if we do not know that the Ascension and the (Second Coming) bracket and define the present age, making it precisely the allotted time for the proclamation to every creature—from the poorest of the poor to the lordless powers who fancy this age as their age—that in fact there is one Lord over all, Jesus Christ, to whom they are called to give their allegiance and so to be saved.

Finally for the poetic among us – a brilliant poem by Denise Levertov: The Ascension

Stretching Himself as if again,
   through downpress of dust
      upward, soil giving way
to thread of white, that reaches
   for daylight, to open as green
      leaf that it is. . .
Can Ascension
   not have been
      arduous, almost,
as the return
   from Sheol, and
      back through the tomb
into breath?
   Matter reanimate
      now must relinquish
itself, its
   human cells,
      molecules, five
senses, linear
   visions endured
      as Man—
the sole
   all-encompassing gaze
      resumed now,
Eye of Eternity.
   Relinquished, earth’s
      broken Eden.
Expulsion,
   liberation,
      last
self-enjoined task
   of Incarnation.
      He again
Fathering Himself.
   Seed-case
      splitting,
He again
   Mothering His birth:
      torture and bliss.

Christ is Risen AND Ascended!

Icon of the Ascension
Icon of the Ascension

This is Ascension Day! It is the most neglected yet essential day in the church calendar. We should greet one another today (or this Sunday) with “Christ is Ascended!” Our response could be, “Yes, He is Lord of all!”

We experience Jesus now without seeing him! (Just like all disciples since the resurrection) Jesus was not resuscitated only to die later. Jesus rose in power, ascended after 40 days, and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father! (Luke 24, Acts 1) We woefully under-emphasize what Jesus is doing right now!

An ancient hymn for the Ascension says:
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your appointed work for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly….and cried out to those who love You, “I am with you and no one is against you.”

Why is it so significant that Jesus is our ascended Lord?  Jesus said it in commissioning his disciples; “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”  (Mat. 28) As N. T. Wright reminds us, this isn’t a ‘beam me up’ science fiction story.  Rather, it conveys Jesus’ Lordship and freedom from space-time limitations.  “Up and down” language is metaphorical in the Bible.  “God’s space” (heaven) and “our space” (earth) are not far away, but near.  Jesus, the embodied man is already Lord of all  (yes, he did not cease being a man!) He is also divine; he is present in one way by the Holy Spirit, but is also absent from this world.  And the ascension has the guarantee that he will appear again when the end comes!  “Jesus is in heaven, ruling the world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete.”  ( Surprised by Hope, p. 117)

Wright has a wonderful way of explaining this.  Jesus is like “a new CEO taking charge of a company that is a mess.”  (sound familiar?)  and we are his messengers, called to work for our Lord’s new way of doing things.  We take orders from him.  He is interceding for us (Heb. 7:25) and has equipped us with His Spirit and  gifts for service, backed by his preeminent authority.  We are therefore both humble and confident as we get busy at our calling; as we work for restoration in this time between his ascension and his appearing, when ALL things will be made right!  2 Corinthians 4:6ff. captures the tension and the hope that is ours.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

The Good News changes Everything – starting Now!

Will we Suffer Well?

cairns -sufI preached on  Suffering Well last Sunday.  I later heard that upon hearing my sermon theme, my daughter whispered in my wife’s ear, “Wow, ‘Suffering Well‘ – –  Happy Mother’s Day!”
Suffering is indeed part of the joy of Christian Discipleship. It is, as Luther said, a way we grow – along with the Scriptures and Prayer. One essential for that growth to take place, is saying to the Lord with an open heart:
   “What do you have for me in this (present suffering?)”
   “Help me to see not only the END of my suffering, but the ‘END’ for which this  suffering may be USED in my life.
Simone Weil wrote, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” (Gravity and Grace)
Scott Cairns, closes his small and beautiful book, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain, with this quote and a poignant benediction:
“May our afflictions be few, but may we learn not to squander them.”
Q – Are you and I ready to ask what God has for us in times of trouble and suffering?

A Sonnet for ‘Ascension Day’

7thSinaiAscension300Today marks the Ascension of Christ in the Western Church – 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Why is it so vital (and yet often neglected?)  Read this post: “Why the Ascension Matters To Our Mission.”

I’d like to share a poem – a  sonnet – that draws out the profound beauty and power of Christ’s Ascension! Read it out loud – more than once!

Ascension Day, by Malcolm Guite

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place,
As earth became part of heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted,
He took us with him to the heart of things,
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and heaven-centered now, and sings;
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light;
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.

– Sounding the Seasons, p.45

Why the Ascension matters for our mission!

40 days after Jesus’ resurrection, (Thursday) Luke records that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father. (Acts 1)

O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your appointed work
for our sake, You ascended in Glory,
uniting the earthly with the heavenly….
and cried out to those who love You,
“I am with you and no one is against you.”

(ancient hymn for the Feast of the Ascension)

Jesus, in his resurrected body, has ascended to the right hand of the Father where he not only prays (‘intercedes’) for us, (Romans 8:34) but where He is also sitting in the ‘Control Room,’ so to speak as the world’s only rightful Lord!  As N.T. Wright (Surprised By Hope) puts it, “Jesus is …ruling the world and will one day return to make that rule complete,”  like a new CEO taking charge of a company that is a mess.  And we are his messengers, called to work for our Lord’s “new way of doing things.”

It’s part of that tension – living between ‘the already’ of His victory and the ‘not yet’ of engaging  our mission.

Are we drawing strength from Jesus’ exalted position?  Strength to implement Christ’s Kingdom victory over evil and the Evil One!  As the angelic messenger said to the watching disciples, “Why stand ye here gazing…?” (Acts 1, KJV)  The Holy Spirit was about to be poured out, bringing all the spiritual gifts and power we need!

As disciples of Christ, we are to discern, deploy, and develop our Spirit-given gifts (charismata), capacities, and passion to serve our exalted Lord for the glory of God and the good of people!

 (Jesus) has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.  (1 Peter 3:22)

The Ascension of Christ – or – “Who’s Really in Charge Here?”

Icon of the Ascension

O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your appointed work
for our sake, You ascended in Glory,
uniting the earthly with the heavenly….
and cried out to those who love You,
“I am with you and no one is against you.”

(ancient hymn for the Feast of the Ascension)

“Out of control!”  It’s a phrase I hear applied to a lot of things lately.  From the mundane to the apocalyptic.  From toddlers in the supermarket to the economy to volcanos.

One of the tensions we were discussing recently in our sermon planning meeting was the way in which words like “God is in charge” can sound pretty empty when we’re experiencing the messes all around us (or in us!)

Krista Tippett of  “Speaking of Faith” recently interviewed Desmond Tutu – Anglican bishop, Nobel laureate, and  the leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa.  Although the work has been heart- wrenching and exhausting, Tutu speaks out of deep faith in the reality of God and His Word.

This same long, indeed biblical, view of time animates Desmond Tutu’s lifelong insistence that “God is in charge.” He believes as passionately now as he did decades ago that evil, injustice, and suffering will not have the last word. Though he does, he jokes, often ask God if he would please make it a little more obvious that He is in charge.

One of the seemingly ‘not obvious,’ but none-the-less real ways of God is revealed in Jesus’ Ascension (marking the 40th day after Easter).  Jesus, after his life and death and resurrection, has been exalted as the world’s true Lord. Continue reading The Ascension of Christ – or – “Who’s Really in Charge Here?”