In the Ascension, the Triune God draws human life into the inner life of God and makes it possible for the Spirit of God to live in our humanity, joining us with God forever.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Ascension of Our Lord
Texts: Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s strange: what God does today is opposite of what we think.
Look at Luke’s second Ascension account, in Acts. Jesus is “lifted up,” a “cloud [takes] him out of their sight.” And the disciples stand there, gaping up at the sky.
And why not? The focus of their life for three years, God’s presence in their lives, has just . . . well, they don’t quite know what he just did. So there they stand.
Until two beings in white robes appear and ask the obvious: “what are you doing staring into heaven?”
But for most of human history, people stared up into the sky for God.
We know “heaven” isn’t a location reachable by space shuttle, above a sky dome that keeps the waters of creation at bay. But before our age, nearly every human culture who worshipped gods envisioned their home as “up”, above the clouds, on top of mountains.
And even with our scientific understanding, we’re still looking up for God. Humanity still tends to view whatever god they worship as “apart,” somehow far away. Even Christians too often default to this.
Now, the Church claims that God took on human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Came near.
In this Palestinian human male of 2,000 years ago, we believe the Creator of all things is found. As a human being, Jesus was the focus of the lives of all who followed him. He was their beloved Master, their gifted Teacher. He bore God’s healing and creative power. He embodied God’s love and forgiveness. In his brutal crucifixion and utterly astonishing resurrection, Jesus’ believers ultimately saw him as not just human, but God Incarnate.
Having him back in these forty days after Easter was a grace and a blessing. Still teaching, still loving, Jesus was back and all was well. They knew where God was again – in Jesus. Once again, Jesus was their focal point.
And then he was carried away. Gone. For a brief moment, God was with us. And now we’re back to looking at the sky. We’re back to God up there, us down here, just as we’ve always thought.
“You’ve completely missed the point,” those white-robed messengers say.
It’s not a question of God’s presence leaving you, it’s the opposite. Just wait, and God’s Spirit will come upon you, just like with Jesus.
This is the first astonishing truth about the Ascension: in taking Jesus, the embodied, Incarnate God-with-us, away from walking on earth, the Triune God will no longer be embodied in just one person, but in all of humanity.
This is foundational to Luke’s understanding. Everything he claims about Jesus comes from the Holy Spirit of the Triune God flowing into Jesus, from his conception to his baptism, to his ministry, to his death and resurrection. And in Acts, Luke says God’s Spirit is doing exactly the same thing with the Church. As Jesus is the Incarnate One, filled with the Holy Spirit, so now is the Church.
This is the heart of God’s plan.
As long as Jesus remains here, only he could be the focal point of faith, and only where he was in person. Even raised from the dead, everyone would look to Jesus for help, or to do what God needs doing.
But God lifted Jesus back into the inner life of the Triune God, Paul says, made Jesus the Christ, so Christ’s body now could become the Church, and the Incarnation now could happen in humanity.
In all the diversity of human race and gender, gifts and cultures, God is known. We don’t have to look up, or believe God has gone away. Paul says we are given the Spirit of wisdom that reveals to us God working in all things, embodied in all people, with more hands and voices and feet and skills and gifts than we can count, bringing God’s grace and love to all.
But there’s another mystery about the Ascension.
Jesus of Nazareth, God-in-human-flesh, is lifted up into the life of the Triune God.
That means not only is God embodied in humanity through the Holy Spirit in the Church. Humanity is embodied in the life of God.
This is such deep mystery that we can’t look at it without confusion. In the Ascension, the Triune God has not only brought the Christ back into in the inner dance of the Trinity, the seat of divine love from which Christ came. The Triune God has brought the Incarnate Jesus into the life of God.
Jesus doesn’t lose his body when he ascends, leaving it lying on the ground. That’s all we know. We don’t know what that truly means in the life of the Trinity. But Jesus, the Christ, crucified and risen, still bearing the scars of his torture and death, was carried into the life of God. Human life in some way has been brought into the life of God for eternity. And surely even God is changed.
You see why it’s a waste of time to look anywhere for God, other than amongst us?
In the Ascension God made the Church possible. We are literally the body of Christ, the Incarnation, in this world. We’re not witnessing to something that happens “out there,” apart from us, when we speak of God’s love and grace and salvation and healing. We witness it with our very bodies and hearts and voices and hands.
And somehow, in ways we dare not try to imagine, in the Ascension our humanity lives in the heart of God. We are so joined to God that nothing can separate us.
Today’s not a day of farewells and absence. It’s the day when humanity and the Triune God fully join together in the new creation God is planning, in the healing of all things God so deeply desires.
In the name of Jesus. Amen