Ascension Day 2014
I was at my laptop, with my head down, listening intently and transcribing my professor’s theology lecture, delivered in his German accent. There I was -- busily typing away on my Blueberry iBook, and then he spoke of Jesus’ Ascension. Jesus’ bodily ascension. QUOTE (you’ll have to imagine the accent): “Jesus ascended into heaven -- the whole enchilada.” At that, I looked up so fast that I caught his attention and he turned and looked at me – auditorium far left, front row. Awkward moment for me!
OK - Hearing “the whole enchilada” in a German accent was startling to my Texan ears, but that’s not what almost gave me whiplash. It was the Ascension. The Ascension…was why I looked up.
How long have I rattled off the Nicene Creed “he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” Well, ever since I was a young child, learning to read and struggling mightily to keep up with the congregation! So, perhaps that’s why I never really heard it, or at least not in the “whole enchilada” kind of way.
Ascension Day happens to be a less popular holy day (thank you for being here), and perhaps an even less popular doctrine of the church, notably since the Enlightenment (go figure). And yet, the Ascension is theologically significant! We see allusions to it the psalms of the Old Testament, and the Ascension is central to New Testament Scripture and understanding of Jesus’ return. Central to early Christians, yet moderns would rather move along and get to Pentecost. What is going on?
The Gospel of Luke shares important specifics about Jesus’ appearance leading up to the Ascension. The disciples were telling the story about “what had happened on the road, and how [Jesus] had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them”(24:35-36). The gospel tells that they were “terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost” (v. 37). In response, Jesus said, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then, if the point still hadn’t been made that he is not ghost or an apparition, he asked for food. “They gave him a piece of broiled fish” (v. 43) and he ate it in front of them.
It is this body. This real flesh and bones -- touch me and see -- resurrected Christ who ascends into heaven. The whole enchilada!
Just as the perplexed women at the tomb on Easter morning were greeted by two men in dazzling clothes asking “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Now two men in white robes ask “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus […] will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
So no wonder the disciples are standing there, looking up, mouths agape. I can’t imagine a universe in which this event doesn’t cause one to be startled, even dumbstruck. Because it has the same effect on us today. Startled, befuddled, mesmerized once again by God…Creator of this universe…”maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen” (Nicene Creed). Given everything God has already done, could this be so hard for God to accomplish?
On this Ascension Day, I find myself dumbfounded once again by God’s steadfast love. That for us and for our salvation, God chose to bind God’s own self with humanity. For in the miracle of the Incarnation in which God entered the world, to be like us in every way except without sin, fully human and fully divine, now ascends into the Godhead. Humanity bound to God forever through Christ. Salvation: The whole enchilada.
So, as God’s people…God’s beloved…we may face the future with confidence and hope in Christ. The One whom we know and loves us so, will be the One who comes for us again. At the end of our lives and at the end of time, we know we are bound in God’s love through Christ…and need never fear.
So I will close, with my head up, with the words of Psalm 121: I lift my eyes to the hills, from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.