Today - May 18, 2023 - is Ascension Day, when we celebrate the miracle of the Risen Jesus Christ ascending into heaven. Being a weekday feast, often the Ascension is noted on the Sunday following the feast day, with less liturgical drama, and perhaps a small service on the day. It’s a shame - because the Ascension of Jesus Christ is a pivotal point in the Resurrection narrative, and has a vital meaning for our belief in what Jesus means for us.
I like to think about the Ascension miracle in two ways. First, as "a little glimpse of heaven." I’ve often wondered if those first and beloved disciples, men and women, watching Jesus rise up from the mountain into the skies and received into heaven saw just a mere glimpse of heaven, itself!
Many years ago, my husband David and our son Dylan, aged 5, went by ship to visit my mother and brothers as they stayed in their old schoolhouse in Cork, Ireland. One weekend while there, David and I went off and set out to tour the famous Ring of Kerry. But on the morning of our arrival, there was a very heavy fog. We crept along the coastal road, barely able to make out the edge of the road, let alone any of the scenery.
And then, suddenly... turning a curve... the fog lifted! And there before us stretched a gleaming, shimmering, gold-green valley; each blade of grass, each branch of a tree, casting a wet patina of gold from the sun. It is, to this day, one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It was a glimpse of sheer glory - and in a second, it vanished back into the fog, and I thought, "Ooh, heaven!"
I then wondered if Christ’s disciples watching Jesus rise caught just a glimpse of heaven’s glory, and carried it forever in their hearts and souls.
My second thought came from the title of the children’s homily script for this coming Sunday: Up, Up, and Away! I looked at it, and thought, "No! It’s Up Up and NOT Away!"
If we grasp the Ascension as anything besides a balloon launch, we should recognize the meaning for Jesus Christ and for us!
First, Jesus returns to His always place in the Godhead, He assumes his role ‘seated at the right hand of God, the Father’ and as Ephesians puts it: “far above all rule and authority and dominion,” but He brings us with him! Jesus, having become fully human, one with us, knowing us from the inside out, returns to Power - Power ‘for’ us! He becomes the ultimate Power over all, He has ultimate control - and He is a friend to us!
In a commentary one day, I read that Albert Einstein was asked what he thought was the most important question for humans. His answer was: Is the universe friendly? Christ’s Ascension to Power for us - answers Yes!
Despite the chaos, sorrow, human evil, and destructiveness of our experience in this broken world, we can know and affirm with my favorite author, Ann Lamotte, “Grace bats last!”
Second, the Ascension is filled with Promise. A promise that the disciples, all believers, will receive their power! With the gift of the Holy Spirit, we receive the power to be fully alive in the present and the future, and, to have life-giving purpose. We can make a difference.
Martin Luther writes, "What good will it do you to merely preach that Jesus ascended into heaven if you sit there with your hands folded?” “For this purpose He ascended, that He might fill all things and be everywhere present which He could not do if He remained here on earth.” Jesus leaves us to be with us in a new way through the Holy Spirit.
The Ascension is a celebration of Christ’s Power, and Promise, and Presence! Let us rejoice!