Ascension Day used to be celebrated with much more importance than perhaps it is today. It does mark an important moment. Whilst they are still in the Easter season of the church calendar the Ascension and Pentecost have a different flavor to them .. a different focus .. a different message. It is a message of mission and gifting and action. Of the absence of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit in this world.
This morning , focusing on the ascension marks the reversal of the Christmas message for us .. it turns all we have celebrated so far in the Christian calendar on its head. The expectant wait for a Messiah to come to us and abide with us in Advent. The arrival of Jesus on earth .. but in the form of a child not the King we expected .. at Christmas God sent Jesus to earth as a baby and in Lent and Easter we retell the story of His earthly sojourn .. his time amongst us and how we did not receive him but sent him to the cross.
And now on Ascension Day, God takes Jesus back to heaven from earth as a resurrected man.
We can however fall into the trap of thinking think of heaven as ‘up there’ and earth as ‘down here’, when we talk about the ascension. Seeing Christmas is a descent or coming down, and ascension as going up in a physical sense.
But I want you to ask yourself this morning what does it really mean that Christ descended and has now ascended from heaven to earth and back. I want to propose that Jesus did not simply move upward in a physical sense into a cloud. Indeed our understanding of the world spinning in our universe no longer has heaven above us and hell below as in Dante’s inferno.
Rather for the Christian, Christ’s Ascent was more than that! In our church journey of faith His ascent is firstly a rise in rank or degree. Just as Jesus diminished himself to come to earth, in Philippians 2 we read of Jesus descent to earth that .. giving up equality with god we are told, so now Jesus ascends to a place far above his human form and experience. He is now with the Creator. He has ascended in status and rank to sit at the Father’s right hand as redeemer and judge. Risen and ascended not simply materially but in the kind of being, the very essence of His being. Elevated to something else. Returning as it were to the status he had before the Creation of the world. Receiving back all he had given up.
In this sense the ascent of Jesus is about moving nearer the source or to the beginning. Like when we ascend a river towards it source or ascend a mountain to its summit. Jesus ascended back to the source back to the root of his heavenly life. Born before the world began, we recite in our creed, through Him all things were made. He has ascended to receive that same creative power and status once more. The ascension is to do with an acquisition of power. Christs ascension to the throne. Jesus ascended to a place of power and authority as He takes His place with the Creator as judge .. the one with power. A cosmic message. An other worldly message. A message with moves us beyond our world to the next!!
Most importantly for us we are told His ascension is something we will also experience for he calls us brothers and sisters. We like Christ will ascend to be with our Creator .. we will rise in rank and degree .. we will move closer to the source .. we will know something of the ascension to power as we share with our Creator the future glory of His kingdom.
What this means for us is that Jesus’ ascension is a time to look forward and not back. It is the event that reminds us our faith is forward looking not backward looking. The best .. indeed your best .. is yet to come. We are not those who decline after a zenith or pinnacle in life passes in the sense of physical well being. Our best is not behind us. We are those who imagine the horizon of faith extends so far into the future that we are only just beginning our journey. We like Christ will ascend to be with our Creator .. to share with our Creator the future glory of His kingdom.
Don’t stand looking back then … set your eyes on the future where Christ is already waiting for us in a mysterious way. As CS Lewis put it in his Chronicles of Narnia .. further up and further in .. this is the Christian pilgrimage .. upward and onward .. to ascend is to follow Christ.