Sunday, May 28, 2017

the ascension: Jesus, God and man in heaven

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our reading from Acts today we have the account of the Ascension. Jesus and the disciples gather together on Mount Olivet, about 'a sabbath's day journey from Jerusalem' or about a mile or so; he speaks to them; and then he is carried upwards until he is hidden by a cloud. Very dramatic – but why? Why ascend into heaven, why leave at all, as opposed to staying?

Well, first let consider that Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is God and God's dwelling place is in Heaven. He has come to earth according to his divine plan; that plan has been fulfilled; and therefore he has returned home. But his departure by way of his Ascension is more than simply by way of a 'job done.' It, like everything that God has done, does, and will do is done according to a purpose, according to a plan. And his plan here is all of a part with the reason why God became man in the first place.
Consider the Incarnation. God became man in order to suffer and die for our sins. As we say in the Easter Anthems 'for as in Adam all died, in Christ all are made alive. Or to put it another way, because man sinned, it was necessary that man pay the penalty for sin. But the penalty was too great for any ordinary man to pay; the only way it could be done if God himself became man and paid that price himself.

But being God, death could not hold him. And so he rose from the dead. And in doing so he destroyed the power of death over all men. Christ the man's resurrection from the dead gives us hope that all men, all of humanity, have the hope of eternal life in heaven. We know that the grave is not the end because Christ walked free from the grave.

And then comes the Ascension. Might Christ have stayed on earth to be with us? Perhaps – but to what purpose? We know from the Gospels, there were many who looked him in the eye when he walked this earth who refused to believe in him; many who witnessed the empty tomb who could not accept that he had risen from the dead. Why think things would have been any different had he remained? The same kind of people who refused to believe in him during his earthly ministry would simply claim he was some kind of imposter, not the Jesus who died, but someone else pretending to be him.

So there was nothing to be gained by his staying. But there was something gained to be gained by his departure. Christ was truly God and truly man; and it was as God and man that he returned to heaven. Real human flesh has entered into the heavenly realms; and this lets us know that at the end of the ages that we, as physical human beings may also enter into heaven. We say in the Creed each Sunday that we believe in the Resurrection of the dead; and we have always understood that to be a bodily resurrection, a time when by the power of God our body and soul, though separated at death, will be reunited.

The Ascension, properly understood, is a part of the Gospel's message of hope for all mankind. By Christ's incarnation and death on the Cross, our sins are forgiven; through his Resurrection we have the hope of eternal life; and by his Ascension we know that our own Resurrection to eternal life will not be in some vague spiritual form, but as flesh and blood human beings. And we know this because Christ ascended into heaven as a real flesh and blood human being, one who after his own Resurrection spoke with his disciples, touched them and was touched by them, cooked for them, and ate with them. We are truly the most blessed of people; which is why we must, as our Lord commanded just before his Ascension share his Gospel message of hope with all the world. And let us pray that we will always have the strength, the courage, and the Grace to do so, from now until the end of the ages. Amen. 

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