How could the Lord Jesus appear behind closed doors? How could he keep his promise, “Surely I am with you always to the close of the age”? How can he be present in bread and wine at Holy Communion when he has surely gone off into heaven? These questions are actually about the “ascension” of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we confess the Creed – whether it is the “Nicene Creed” or the “Apostles’ Creed” or the “Athanasian Creed” – we declare that Jesus Christ “ascended”.
“Ascended ” is just one single word, but it comes with a lifetime of learning of its meaning for Christian consolation; for Christian discipleship; and for Christian hope.
On the day of his ascension, soon after his resurrection from the tomb, our Lord Jesus “commissions” his disciples to go as his witnesses to “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”. In the scriptures, we are told, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1).
It is easy to think of Jesus ascending to a place in a heavenly throne room in a distant “dimension”. Our human minds struggle with comprehending such divine mysteries and our human reason jumps to quick conclusions and solutions.
But the promises from the Lord’s own mouth are profound.
“Surely. I am with you always.” This means that he is present with us in this life and walks with us through the highs and lows of our journey.
“Take and eat. Take and drink.” “This is my body” “This is my blood” “for the forgiveness of sin.” This means that he is present in the bread and the wine in Holy Communion, where the ordinary elements become spiritual food to strengthen and preserve us to life eternal.
The festival of the Ascension is the celebration of the promises of Jesus Christ. He is no longer in one place in one time as he was when he walked Palestine with his 12 disciples almost 2000 years ago. Jesus Christ has been revealed as “God with us” and able to be present wherever he says he will be, even in bread and wine, even in closed houses during a pandemic lockdown.
This “ascended Lord” promises to continue to “go before us” even in our dying. As we close our eyes in death we awaken to the face of our “Beautiful Saviour.”
This all makes the festival of “Ascension” one of the wonderful “hope-filled” days of the Christian Calendar. You might want to check for the date at the beginning of each year (this year it is May 21st) and write the date in your calendar and add the Lord’s promise, “Surely, I am with you always to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28)
It was the gospel of the Ascension that inspired Patrick of Ireland to write his famous poem-prayer:
“Christ be with me, Christ within me;
Christ before me, Christ beside me.
Christ to comfort and restore me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger;
Christ in mouth of friend or stranger.
Christ in hearts of all that love me.
Christ be with me.”