What is the Ascension of our Lord?
The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord today. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally, many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday. But in our day, the Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.
If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension, the call to baptize and disciple the nations would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.
The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:
“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”
A joy-less Christian faith is a faith that has not ascended. Where Christ is we are. And we know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. The Father has given him the kingdom (Psalm 2), and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection (I Cor. 15:24-26).
We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body. As one author observed:
"Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity."
Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.
As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs because he has a body just like you and he rejoices with you because he has a body just like you.