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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s very, very easy to miss Ascension Day. It’s easy to gloss over the four words of Jesus’ ascension in the Creeds. When Easter is over, it’s easy to have sort of a let-down in terms of celebration. We can say all we want that the Easter season is fifty days, but—I know—it comes across as sort of a deceit. We know that, for all intents and purposes, our celebration ended after the eggs and candy were done being found and eaten. And, what’s worse, it’s on a Thursday! Who goes to church on a Thursday? But this is one more reason why the life of Christ should shape our lives, rather than trying to cram the life of Christ into our over-filled lives. It’s easy to miss Ascension Day.
But Paul reminds the Ephesians and us that the Ascension of Jesus is not a throw-away add-on to the Christian Faith. It is, in fact, the culmination of everything that Jesus came to do and did. In the beginning of the letter, Paul says that the plan of God was always to “bring everything to a head” in Christ; all the things in heaven and all the things on earth have their completion and fulfillment in Jesus, who was conceived, born, lived, died, rose, and ascended. Everything comes together in Jesus, both in time and space (Ephesians 1:10).
Jesus’ ascension has very little to do with “going up,” except to indicate to our limited minds that He left this earth and we cannot see Him as the apostles saw Him. But heaven isn’t located in relation to us the same way the tops of the trees are, or the mountains, or the stars. Because “up” from one part of this earth is “down” from another part. Heaven is the place where God dwells invisibly, but not a place you can get to by going up and up and up in a particular direction.
Jesus’ ascension has everything to do with power and authority and rule. It has everything to do with the glorification of Jesus’ risen body in eternity. It has everything to do with God’s right hand, which is another way of saying God’s eternal and almighty power. It’s the fulfillment of Psalm 110:1, where Yahweh says to the Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” His right hand is His saving might (Psalm 20:6; 44:3; 60:5; 98:1; 138:7). It is full of righteousness (48:10). It destroys the enemy to save His people (74:11). The power that God worked in raising Christ from the dead is the exact same power by which He was ascended and glorified (Ephesians 1:20). And that is where the Son of God in flesh is: reigning with all the power of the eternal God. As God, that power was His from eternity, but now it is His also according to His human nature, because He is forever God and Man.
And just as God and Man are joined inseparably in the one Man, Jesus, so all things are brought together in Him—things in heaven and things on earth. He is the one mediator between God and Man, perfect and righteous God restoring and perfecting what people had lost and could not regain. And it is His ascension that makes this clear. His return to the Father, perfected according to His human obedience, means that He is the source of our eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9). He ascends not to be less to us in physical absence, but to be more for us in an unshakable and sacramental presence, until we, too, are perfected in the resurrection.
Jesus has ascended to the Father’s right in order to bring everything to its goal in Him. We are not celebrating a minor day in the Church year. We are celebrating the accomplished fact that what Jesus did in His life, death, and resurrection is being brought to its full and complete perfection, on the day when we, with all the saints, will be raised to life. “Then comes the end, when [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-27). Then God will be all in all; Christ, who is head of the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
But even until then, Christ is—right now—the Head of His Church. In His ascension, the Father gave Him as head to the Church. In His ascension, He lives to both intercede for us before the Father and to give us the Father’s love in His own Body and Blood. In His ascension, He acts in saving power for you and me and the whole world. He is not absent, and so invisible. He is invisibly present for the whole Church, bringing us slowly (it seems to us) on and on to the riches of His glorious inheritance. Today, and for as many days as the Lord gives us, we rejoice in His exaltation. Because it means that no matter who appears to rule, who seems to have power, who claims authority in this age and world, Jesus, in His flesh, has been given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations, and languages would find that He is their Lord. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).
He is risen from the dead and no one can kill Him. He has been exalted as Lord of lords and King of kings, and no one can overthrow Him. This is the Lord you have, right now. This is the Lord the Church has, right now. And He will never be defeated in His will, nor can anyone destroy His promises or take away the gifts which He has given to His Body. To Him be all the glory now and forever, on earth as it is in heaven.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/29/19