Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day: What is and is to be

Opening Sentence
Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 8, 47

Lessons: Daniel 7:9-14, Hebrews 2:5-18, Matthew 28:16-20 (see also Acts 1:1-11)

Christ's ascension into heaven is, for the church, the symbol of what she is and is to be in him. As Christ, having endured the ordeal of suffering, death, and resurrection, is vindicated as the true Son of Man (Luke's account of the ascension in Acts 1.1-11 is replete with the imagery Daniel 7.13-14, including Jesus' being taken up to heaven in a cloud), so the church, having endured the same, will be united with Christ in everlasting glory.

There are two ways in which we are not to anticipate this final, glorious consummation of the union of Christ and the church. First, we are not to concern ourselves with "the times or periods the Father has set by his own authority." Rather, we are to be Christ's witnesses "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Luke's account of the ascension roughly corresponds with the conclusion of Matthew's Gospel,in which Jesus commands his disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

Second, we are not to waste our time staring off into space, waiting for Jesus to drop out of the sky. Jesus, the disciples are told, "will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Here is where it becomes very important for the church to understand the nature of her union with Christ and how that union is consummated. How the disciples "saw" Jesus "go into heaven" must be understood in the much wider context of the ordeal of suffering, death, and resurrection which preceded this particular episode. The account of Acts 1.1-11 is only the culmination of a series of events which began with Jesus' setting his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9.51).

Thus, for Jesus to "come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" must involve the ordeal of suffering, death, and resurrection. This does not mean that Jesus himself must literally go through that ordeal again. Rather, it means the church, the Bride of Christ, must continually remember that singular event which brought her into existence. It is through worship that the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ is kept constantly at the forefront of the church's memory as she prays and longs for her Bridegroom to come and make their union complete.

The proper attitude, then, for anticipating Christ's coming in glory is the attitude of worship. Such an attitude forms the church's whole understanding of herself as a community in covenant with God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ "to the ends of the earth," being assured by her Lord, "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise