We celebrate Ascension Day (reading Luke 24:44-53, and Acts 1:1-11), the day Jesus left earth after his ministry – put like that, it seems odd. Imagine someone saying “You can’t have thought much of him if you celebrate his going!” It’s not like that, but why? What are we celebrating?
Part of the celebration is about the story of Jesus. We remember his birth (everybody has to celebrate Christmas, whether they like it or not!), and then we go on to remember through Epiphany how he came to be known and recognised. To begin with he was popular – healing and telling stories, but he didn’t offer the easy route some wanted, and he annoyed important people. We come to his Passion, Death, and yes, Resurrection (Easter is the most important celebration, but somehow more optional in the social calendar). That’s not quite the end, for there are the appearances, the forgiveness of the failed friends. Ascension Day wraps it up tidily.
It gives us a chance to think about who we are. We come from many places – for Christians come from every part of the world, and many different cultures and languages. They include all sorts of personalities, all ages, professions and life experiences. They were given that nickname, probably not in flattery, in Antioch – “Christians”, Jesus people. That is what we share, what draws and holds us together. Perhaps we should be encouraged that even in Acts 1:6 they still haven’t got it right, expecting the Kingdom in their terms.
But wait a minute. If Luke ends his gospel with Jesus being carried up to heaven, he tells the story again at the beginning of his second volume, Acts. What’s that about?
It is partly to say “He’s coming back, – be ready to give an account of yourselves”, which is what the angels say
But it’s also to say, because Jesus completed his ministry successfully – life, death, and resurrection – he is no longer stuck in one place. I imagine some of you will have visited the Holy Land, to see where Jesus walked, talked, died. Despite all the problems there, it remains popular – but so does Parry’s “Jerusalem” “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s (Wales’?) mountains green, and was the Holy Lamb of God in … pleasant pastures seen?”
If Jesus had continued to appear around Palestine, how could we say “The Lord is here, his Spirit is with US”?
If his appearances had tailed off, that would have been a sad end. But being seen to return gloriously to heaven closes one chapter, and opens a new book. We look for the coming of the Spirit. We rejoice in the victory of our Lord.
Jesus has gone from earth to heaven;
- Jesus has gone from one place, to be with us all
- Jesus leads his Church, through the Holy Spirit, in every part of the world
- Including – wherever you are reading this