From deepest depths to greatest heights: the comfort of Ascension
Jesus bids farewell to His church. It is becoming clearer and clearer to them that He is about to leave them. But not for good! The comforting thing about this farewell is that there is hope for a reunion.
The congregation is very sad. Their Lord and Master is about to leave them. “Stay Lord, please,” they will likely have pleaded with Him. He had become the centre of their lives. He had given them hope, joy, and courage. They had become better people because of Him. They had shared in fellowship, practised charity, shown love to one another, and cared for each other. Their lives had become more beautiful through Him and with Him. And even their everyday worries had somehow become more bearable.
And now He was about to go away.
Ascension is not only an important Christian feast and holy day, but also an event full of mystery. It is so mysterious, in fact, that many Christians no longer even want to believe what is written in Holy Scripture: “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Luke 24: 50–51).
Come again? He ascended to heaven? How is that supposed to work? Our rationally oriented world demands an explanation. How is that supposed to be possible? And so many had witnessed the ascension, unlike the resurrection, which no one had witnessed. How can someone believe in the resurrection—which no one saw—and yet doubt in the ascension which so many saw?
Christian faith holds the ascension of Jesus to be true. Even if human thinking cannot begin to grasp it, Jesus Christ has truly risen and ascended into heaven. Since the infancy of Christian teaching, this has been a well-established principle. “Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended from among the circle of His Apostles into heaven, to God, His Father. The human nature of the Lord was thereby dissolved permanently into divine glory” (CNAC 3.4.12). Science cannot explain faith. It is precisely this mysterious aspect that makes faith faith.
Ascension is not a day of mourning. Unlike a funeral, there is no burial. There is no body. The resurrection took care of that. There are three aspects of the Ascension that are comforting and reassuring.
- Jesus’ farewell is contrasted with the thought of His return. This is important. His parting was only temporary: “Don’t worry. I will return!” The Christian motto states: we are the expectant and hopeful community that is allowing the Holy Spirit to prepare its members for their reunion with Christ. The ascension of Jesus marks the beginning of the waiting period.
- Until then, Christians are alone. But the Lord is always with them, through the Holy Spirit, the divine comforter. He will be their divine helper. He will grant them new knowledge. He will explain to them things that are as yet unknown. He will lead, teach, and bring life.
- Christ’s Ascension already foreshadows our own ascension. Human beings will ascend to heaven too. This may certainly give our human intellect pause to think for a moment. “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (Hebrews 10: 37). When Christ returns for the second time, He will not come on account of sin, but will rather appear “to those who eagerly wait for Him ... for [their] salvation” (Hebrews 9: 28).
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