We are in the days leading up to the Day of Pentecost and in a period sometimes known as Ascensiontide. The Ascension (Luke 24:44-53) is probably not the best known of the feast days on the calendar, but it is one that takes on increasing depth and importance the more you think about it and experience it.
The Ascension is not about gravity, or the physical location of heaven, or any of that. It is about God. In fact, even though it comes toward the end of Eastertide, the Ascension is most closely related in meaning to Christmas. At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, God becoming flesh and living among us.
What was begun at Christmas is brought full circle and proclaimed again in a different way at the Ascension. In the Incarnation, what it means to be God became fully a part of what it means to be a human being. In Jesus, the human and the divine become united in the person and life of one man. In the Ascension, this human being became a part of who God is.
It was not the spirit of Jesus, or the essence of Jesus, or the divine nature of Jesus, or the invisible part of Jesus, or the idea of Jesus, or anything like that, that ascended to the Father. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had touched, a body that ate and drank with them, a real, physical, but gloriously restored body, bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This humanity has become a living, participating part of Divinity.
The Ascension tells us that it is a good and holy thing to be a human. In fact, it is so good and holy a thing that God became human. The fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being.
So we are able to approach God with confidence and with joy. Because we are not only dealing with the Creator of the universe and the Sovereign of all time and of eternity; we are also drawing near to the One who lived our life, has shared our fate, who knows us, and cares about us.
I'll see you in Church!
P.S. You just can't beat Charles Wesley when you need a hymn for an occasion like Ascension Day! Here's the Choir of Tewkesbury Abbey singing his rousing hymn Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise. (By the way, Ascension Day this year also happens to be the 282nd anniversary of Charles Wesley’s conversion experience in 1738.)
1. Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
glorious to his native skies; Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
enters now the highest heaven! Alleluia!
2. There the glorious triumph waits; Alleluia!
lift your heads, eternal gates! Alleluia!
Wide unfold the radiant scene; Alleluia!
take the King of glory in! Alleluia!
3. See! he lifts his hands above; Alleluia!
See! he shows the prints of love: Alleluia!
Hark! his gracious lips bestow, Alleluia!
blessings on his Church below. Alleluia!
4. Lord beyond our mortal sight, Alleluia!
raise our hearts to reach thy height, Alleluia!
there thy face unclouded see, Alleluia!
find our heaven of heavens in thee. Alleluia!