Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Luke 24:44-53) See more readings for Ascension Day
Today the Church (at least the parts using the Gregorian calendar) remember the ascension of Christ into heaven. After his resurrection and various appearances he leaves his disciples, promising some kind of wonderful power if they would only be obedient. This is fulfilled on Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What I notice in Luke’s account is not the promise of the Spirit–who is promised a number of times–but that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures. Might it be that only now, at the end of his life in the flesh, his followers know Christ for who he really is?
Perhaps Christ cannot be known–not really–until his death, resurrection, and ascension are comprehended. I suppose this is why the great creeds of the church include these as part of their exposition about Jesus, prioritising these acts over anything Jesus taught or said!
The Ascension is not therefore some kind of metaphor for some moral action I ought to be doing. Heaven knows the Christmas and Easter stories have been told in such a way as to be a narration of contemporary issues of poverty or social strife. No, the Ascension is a promise and a revelation. Indeed it is given to me as an article of faith through which I see Jesus for who he really is: the one seated in power at the right hand of God, from whom the blessings of the Holy Spirit pour forth.
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens,
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Cover art – The Ascension of Christ by Salvador Dali, 1958