Ascension Day (& All the Days that Came Before).
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the nations,
believed on in the world,
and taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16
I don’t know about you, but, as a child, I was convinced that Jesus died, rose again – and simply ‘went back’ to heaven the next day. I joyfully went through Good Friday and Easter Sunday, enjoying pickled fish and Easter eggs, glossing over the day that Jesus ‘left us’. As I grew up, I was hit with two realisations; Ascension day is so much more meaningful than I once thought and, on top of that – I definitely had my timeline wrong.
Acts 1:6-11 notes the Ascension of Jesus. “So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
Brian Zahnd, leader and founder of Word of Life Church, challenges the idea of Jesus’ ascension being understood as His absence. He reminds us that Ascension day denotes the ascendancy, omnipotency and cosmic presence of Christ everywhere, rather than His absence or disappearance. It is about Christ rising to the right hand of God, to the position of all authority in heaven and on earth. Brian Zahnd puts it excellently when he writes that, “Through the Ascension, Christ now fills all things everywhere with Himself. There is now no place where Christ is not, and no domain over which Jesus is not Lord” (Zahnd, 2017). Jesus – the perfect right hand Guy.
Recently, what has come to have profound meaning for me in light of Ascension Day is, in fact, Jesus’ days prior to His ascension. Scholars suggest that Jesus spent 40 days on earth between His rising and His ascension; and He filled these days chatting to and eating with friends, old and new.
The Bible, in Luke 24:1-12, accounts for His first appearance after His death being to women outside His tomb, who then rushed to tell the other Apostles of what they had witnessed (the first preachers of Christ resurrected!) He is further noted as having met with His disciples (Luke 24:36-49; John 21:1-7) – the men who left him alone in His despair and pain. Significantly, He meets Peter (John 21:7-23)- the one who betrayed Him, betrayed His name, betrayed their friendship (Luke 22:54-62). Cooking a meal on the beach and chatting with Peter, Jesus reminds Him of their unconditional friendship and allegiance, and reminds Peter of his calling in love – to take care of His people. Women, the friends who abandoned Him, a friend who denied Him – all of these people deemed unworthy of the Christ – are met by Him resurrected. Met with mercy, grace, understanding, love, and proximity. How beautiful it is to serve and love this God – who fills his last lived days on earth with friendship, food and kindness. How good it is to know that He never abandons or leaves behinds, that our distance and denial of Him doesn’t affect His love and proximity to us. How lovely it is to know that before He ascends, He assures that He is in right relationship with His community. This is a God who cares so deeply, who forgives with no limits, who embraces even in pain. Christ, who died, rose again (walked on earth for 40 days), ascended to the right hand of God, and promises to be with us always – even until the end of the Age (Matthew 28:20).
As we ponder on this Ascension Day, let us also ponder on this: as we seek to be Christlike, what was Christ like in His ascension and the days leading to it? As he embodied kindness, restoration, fellowship and, certainly, oneness with God – may we also, do the same.