(Please don’t miss the video featuring Kristyn Getty at the bottom of the page.)
On Thursday this week, it being forty days since Easter, the church will be celebrating Ascension Day.
On Ascension Day we remember that moment when Jesus, bringing his post-resurrection ministry to his disciples to a close by blessing them, was finally “taken up” into heaven to be with his Father. (Luke 24:50-53.)
This event has presented artists and film makers, indeed, anyone who wants to illustrate the life of Jesus, with the difficult problem of how to represent Jesus’ departure. For some, Jesus literally rises up out of the picture, as we witness two feet leaving the top edge of the frame. For others, Jesus simply disappears into an otherworldly mist. For yet others Jesus is surrounded by the light of glory, which when it fades shows he is no longer there.
The ascension of Jesus, passing from one mode of existence to another, from earth to heaven, is so unusual, so far outside our normal experience, that we just cannot make sense of what it must have ‘looked’ like. Luke simply reports, “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”
The actual appearance of Jesus as he ascended is, of course, not the point, intriguing to think about though it may be. What matters is where Jesus was going, what he was going to do there, and how the disciples responded.
Jesus was going to heaven, to that place in creation where God the father is deemed to be most particularly present, where God is enthroned in all his glory. Jesus was going to be reunited with his father and resume the place of honour and glory that was rightfully his.
We may assume that the disciples would be downhearted and discouraged by Jesus’ departure, that they would feel disappointed, or let down, but that was not the case we are told that they “worshipped” him and went back to Jerusalem “rejoicing.”
The disciples were, at last beginning to understand, that they could, in fact, rejoice because Jesus was going to the father, and that he was about to complete his work on their behalf, by sending them the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus had promised them, when he said that it was his leaving them that would make way for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them in his place.
At the same time, of course, Jesus had also promised his disciple that, in the presence of his father, he would be praying for them and for all believers everywhere.
Jesus promised that he would not leave his disciples “as orphans,” alone and without support. Indeed, by sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus ensured that he could be with them forever, leading, guiding and encouraging them. Although Jesus’ immediate work on earth had been completed, it would be continued by the Holy Spirit, and by believers everywhere who were in-dwelt by that Spirit.
Ascension Day is a day of joy because on it we remember Jesus’ returning to his father, having carried out the amazing work he had been given. But it also a day of joy because it is the final event that had to happen before the coming of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, which we will be celebrating in only a couple of weeks time.