Friday, April 10, 2015

Parish Magazine Item for May - The Ascension

At 7:30pm on Thursday 14th May we’ll be gathering for Holy Communion at St Giles’, Dallington to celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, 40 days after his resurrection from the dead on the first Easter Sunday. I do hope you’ll be able to join us, not least because the Ascension is a very significant and sometimes overlooked event. Indeed, sometimes the Ascension is mocked because it seems naive and primitive to think of Jesus going up to heaven, a bit like a human rocket! But even if we don’t imagine heaven “up there”, we shouldn’t miss the meaning of the Ascension. Part of the significance of the resurrection is that although Jesus was physically raised from the dead, he is not physically with us now. Jesus is in heaven. We know his presence by the power of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out on the church on the Day of Pentecost (which we’ll celebrate on Sunday 24th May).

The Ascension is best thought of as the completion of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth to save his people and when he had finished his saving work, Jesus returned to the right hand of the Father in heaven. When Jesus arrives back in glory, he sits down on his heavenly throne, rather like we might throw ourselves into our favourite armchair and put our feet up after a long hard day at work. The letter to the Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the Old Testament priests: they used to stand at the altar in the temple day after day offering sacrifices but Jesus offered himself as a perfect once for all sacrifice and then he sat down, his work done. On the cross Jesus had cried out, “It is finished!” not, “I am finished!”, as if it were a cry of defeat, but a shout of victory meaning, “Accomplished! Done!”. That word translated “It is finished!” is the kind of word an old couple might use when they finally pay off their mortgage: “At last, it’s done! We’ve managed it!”. Or it’s what a builder might say when he adds the final piece to a new house he’s made. Jesus’ ascension to his throne in heaven is a vivid demonstration that his saving work is indeed finished perfectly. He is welcomed into God the Father’s presence and honoured because his sacrifice was entirely pleasing to the Father and totally effective. The Ascension assures us that our salvation is utterly secure. The price for sin has been fully paid.

So the Ascension is Jesus’ return to the glory he enjoyed with the Father from all eternity. But there is something new. Now Jesus the God-man, the Incarnate Deity, sits on the throne of the universe as a human being. This fulfils God’s initial intention for the world. Men and women were meant to rule the world under God but our first parents chose to rebel and tried to throw off God’s good lordship. Sin creates havoc, but in the end God’s purposes are not thwarted. The first Adam failed, but Jesus, the Second Adam, triumphed. He is Humanity as it was meant to be.

As a human being, Jesus is able to sympathise with our human weaknesses. The Bible tells us that he was really tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. We can pray to Jesus as one who understands what it’s like to be a human being from the inside out. Jesus, then, is our friend in high places – our brother who has become king. He lives to intercede for us. His prays for you and me, and God his Father delights to hear him. Jesus the God-man is the perfect go-between between man and God.

So Jesus remains enthroned in heaven today. The next thing on his “to-do list” is to come again to judge the living and the dead. He reigns until it is time for him finally to put the world to rights. In the meantime, we are invited to make our peace with him, if we have not already done so, by embracing him as our Saviour and our Lord. Those who trust in him will share the blessings of his everlasting risen life.   

Such is part of the meaning of the Ascension. We’ll explore it together further on Thursday 14th.    

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