The Ascension begs a question: … What exactly is happening as Jesus goes into heaven?
Is this the triumphant finale, the final victory parade? When at last Jesus goes home to the Father, to be paraded through the streets of heaven in victory – much like the triumphant Leicester City team will drive round the streets of Leicester in an open-top bus in a few days time. Is it the time when Jesus is welcomed back into that indescribable unity which is the Trinity of the Godhead – back home at last?
Or is it a moment of desertion. The disciples have only just received Christ back among them after his death and now cruelly he is taken from them into heaven. A renewed relationship is abruptly ended!! A commission is given and then the bombshell is dropped.
“Listen!” says Jesus, “I have a job for you to do – to be my witnesses throughout the known world.”
“Great, Lord, when do we get down to business, when do we work out the strategy, when to do you provide the corporate plan of action, when do we do our Mission Action Planning?”
“Not us. … Not me!” says Jesus, “You! …… I’m going away and you’ll never see me again this side of heaven!”
Or is this, actually, rather than desertion, the point at which followers become leaders, children become adults. Is this primarily the point where Jesus followers can no longer hide behind a leader and have to begin to make important choices themselves.
For all the participants in this story, this must have been a confusing moment. A time which carried so much emotion – parting from friends, losing a friend and leader, going home …
All sorts of mixed emotions.
In the end all of these scenarios have more than a grain of truth to them.
Christ is going home in victory. A job well done.
Christ is leaving behind a ragged group of followers who must have felt deserted. Yes, he did promise the Holy Spirit as helper and guide. But what’s a Spirit when you’ve had real flesh & blood to relate to?
And perhaps most crucially for us, Jesus is asking this ragged group to stand up for themselves. To be what he knows that they can be with the Spirit’s strength – a missionary band that will turn the world upside down within a century.
St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer sums it up well …..
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
As we mark the Ascension today, of course we celebrate a job well done, the earthly part of Christ’s mission over. But, most critcally, the Ascension reminds us that we are the ones that count – between now and eternity God has left his concerns, his mission in our hands. And on Ascension Day, it behoves us to commit ourselves again to serving to God – to discovering his way and walking in it, to being his hands, eyes and feet here in the places that God has put us.