Why does Ascension matter?
Ascension, 10th of May, 2018
Lynda Crossley, Klingner Scholar at St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Acts 1:1-11 Ephesians 1:17-23 Mark 16:15-20
I have been grappling with difficult questions all week. Why does the Ascension matter? How does it change our lives and our perspectives as followers of Jesus Christ?
I would like to suggest that Jesus' ascension matters because it connects us with the completion of Jesus earthly ministry with Jesus ongoing ministry in the world through the disciples and us. What many of us struggle to comprehend, is Jesus ascension in bodily form. It sounds like the stuff of legend or mythology. Tonight, I would like us to consider the Ascension in light of a Jewish sense of a wholeness in creation, a wholeness of heaven and earth.
For a moment, I would like you to consider how you have come to understand the relationship between heaven and earth? From where did your understanding spring from? A western platonic view, tends to dichotomise heaven and earth. Earth here, heaven somewhere up there. Separate and distinct. The Jewish view is quite different. Heaven and earth are not two separate spaces as in Platonic thought. Heaven is the realm of God, and of angels. The earth is the realm of humans, plants and animals. However, both heaven and earth interrelate, intersect, and impinge on each other. The old testament is full of angelic visitors, messengers of God who meet with people regularly. And Jesus himself reveals this uniting of heaven and earth when he teaches the disciples how to pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus' prayer is not escape from earth, but of a coming together of heaven and earth. In a sense, He is saying 'Lord that you may reign here as thoroughly as you reign in heaven.'
So then how do we interpret Jesus' ascension — Jesus body being translated from the earthly to the heavenly. We read that Jesus is taken up into heaven and Jesus makes a promise to the disciples to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. There is a wonderful transaction taking place. Jesus ascends into the heavens and from heaven is sent to earth the holy spirit at the appointed time. As Jesus bodily ascends to the heavenly, something of the heavenly comes down to the earthly realm. Here we have the meeting of heaven and earth. The transfiguration of earth by heaven in both the ascension and Pentecost. And we the church as the body of Christ here on earth and our job is to continue to bring heaven and earth together by proclaiming the message of the Gospel to the whole of creation.
In our reading of Acts today, as Jesus ascends to heaven, two men in white robes stand among the disciples and say, 'why do you stand, looking up to heaven' If you read Plato, then you will be standing there looking up into heaven. However, Jesus did not leave the disciples gazing up into heaven waiting for his return. Instead the disciples were given a commission to go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. We are here to unite heaven and earth. This is why the Ascension matters, we are to bring heaven and earth together, by metaphorically driving out the demons of fear, alienation, and separation, by demonstrating God's love to others and to be brought into God's kingdom. We are to speak a new language, the language of God's love to a broken world. We are to 'pick up deadly snakes', face the challenges of this world and not shy away from what is difficult. The difficulties of homelessness and hunger, of providing protection to refugees, of opening our arms to others. We are to 'lay hands on the sick', to open up our hearts to those around us so that all may feel so completely and utterly welcomed at the table of our Lord and experience the same love and grace that God extends to us.
Why does the ascension matter? Jesus prayed, Lord Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The ascension marks for us that moment when Jesus earthly ministry ends so that the holy spirit could be given to empower the disciples in the ongoing work of God to bring heaven on earth. Today as we celebrate Jesus ascension, may we embrace God's ongoing work in us and through us, bringing heaven to earth. That we may live a life worthy of our calling in Christ with humility, patience, gentleness, so that we may maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.