Have you ever wondered why the resurrected Jesus didn’t stick around on earth
Why did he have to leave?
Why did he have to ascend to heaven?
Today, May 25th, the fortieth day of Easter, is celebrated as the “Ascension of our Lord.” Tradition teaches that it was on this day that Jesus, as recorded in Luke and the Book of Acts, ascended into heaven and left his disciples behind staring into the clouds.
Departures and leavings are a common part of life. Often, the leaving is sad. A child goes off to college, or takes a new job. A friend or family member departs for a job in a new city.
But the church doesn’t commemorate the Ascension as a sad day. We celebrate it as a joyful day!
The two options for the Prayer of the Day for Ascension point to the joy of this day.
One prayer begins this way: Almighty God, your only Son was taken into the heavens and in your presence intercedes for us …
A former colleague of mine in Boston used to say of the Ascension that when Jesus ascended into heaven he gathered up all of our hurts and pains, our sorrows and sufferings, into his body, and took them with him into heaven. There in heaven he laid them, in his very body, before the presence of God as a form of intercessory prayer.
My colleague served a poor inner city church in Boston. His people knew societal and personal brokenness in distinct and painful ways. For them, and for us and all who suffer, the promise of a Jesus who knows our hurts and pains in his very body, and intercedes for us by laying them before God in heaven, is indeed good and joyful news!
That’s one way the departure of Jesus is Good News.
The other Prayer of the Day includes this language and another source of joy:
Almighty God, your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things. Mercifully give us faith to trust that, as he promised, he abides with us on earth to the end of time …
Did you notice in this prayer where Jesus ascended? Not just to heaven, or to the heavens, but far above all heavens! Beyond the heavens. Not bound in one time and place, but beyond time and place.
Not to some galaxy far, far, away where he is swallowed up by the cosmos.
He ascends back to us!
To abide with us!
The promise here, ironically, is not of a savior who departed, but a savior who returns to abide with us!
Think of it this way …
If Jesus of Nazareth had stayed on earth, he would have been bound by the constraints of time and space. That, indeed, was the miracle of the incarnation – the infinite God becoming finite. The creator of the expansive universe, willingly choosing the very real constraints of the womb, of a human body, of a cross.
But those constraints would have limited the power of God to work salvation.
For example …
If Jesus had stayed on earth, how much time would you think you might get every year in the presence of Jesus?
I did some figuring … Based on the earth’s population 7.347 billion people in 2015 … If Jesus spent time with each person on earth at least every year, he would need to see 20 million people a day!
If you wanted an hour with Jesus, you would have to share it with 833,332 other people. Imagine a football stadium 8 times bigger than the biggest stadiums in our world today. Most people would get no closer to Jesus than by watching him on a Jumbotron.
But in the Ascension, he ascended beyond the physical limitations of time and space.
As one theologian put it: in the Ascension, Jesus ascended into the sacraments!
He ascended into the water that washes away sin and names us as God’s beloved and chosen children forever. Jesus is present in the water wherever it washes over skin announcing new life!
He ascended into the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup to unite us in communion with himself and all the saints in the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is present wherever the bread and wine is taken into mouths and people in faith hear the words “for you” in new ways!
In the Word and Sacraments, Jesus lives, with us, and for us!
Departing on the day of Ascension, he return to us, each one of us, wherever the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered.
In this way, the Ascension doesn’t mark the departure of Jesus. It marks Christ’s movement towards us in new and powerful ways.
So, friends, on this Day of the Ascension, we rejoice!
+ We rejoice in our savior who presents in his body our hurts and pains to God in heaven.
+ We rejoice in our savior present to us wherever the Word is preached and Sacraments administered.
+ We rejoice that God does everything in God’s power, including the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, to announce and enact relationship with us.
Thanks be to God!