The Ascension is a way and window to God’s promises.
Published May 25, 2017
Today is the feast of the Ascension, marking the end of the forty day period after Easter when Jesus appeared to his disciples, and when he left them to return to the Father. Little appreciated, known or understood at our end of Protestantism, it sometimes has a special resonance for Universalists and, I think, should be considered and enjoyed more. (I knew a person who was convinced I was trying to promote the Annunciation, an altogether different observance.)
Universalist ministers before me point out John 12:32, where Jesus says: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” This is the spirit of the Ascension, seeing the hope it contains, that all persons are included in God’s plan for “holiness and happiness.” But the Ascension refers back as an instance to the end of the Gospel of Luke and the first lines of the Acts of the Apostles.
*Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high.
And he led them out until they were over against Bethany: and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, blessing God.* (Luke 24: 45-53, ASV)
And our faithful lives take on a mythic dimension at Ascension, which probably explains the reluctance liberal Protestants have towards it. Yet those mythic elements open new words to us.
As I mentioned last time, I was reading Henri Crouzel’s Origen: The Life and Thought of the First Great Theologian and have since finished it. There are several new ideas that came out of the book (not the least of which is that Origin is not the unqualified Universalist he was so often described as being) and at least two pertain to the Ascension. For one thing, the kind of body Jesus Christ had was different than he had before Good Friday: one that is materially more subtle. Thomas could touch him, but he could walk through doors. Not the kind of body we have and know, but neither a vision: something else and something new. This, in itself, leads us to think of what our nature is, and how it is prone to change, and that, following the Christ, may be capable of wonders. The other thought considers those he found in the abode of the dead after his crucifixion. There lie those captive in death, but Origin taught that the righteous who had died before him would be carried to Paradise. This is a very different depiction that that of Jesus being lifted out of this world, as if by wires or a jetpack. He is very much the leader and he is not alone. He was lifted up on the cross, and he subverts the shame, the pain and the loss. He carries our long-dead hopes into new life.
Christ is the divine scout blazing a path for us to glory, but more than this, it is a break in the wall between this life and the life to come, as those who were left for dead and loss were given a part in our future happiness. He goes and returns an advocate for us. He goes and we shall follow.
Until next time,
Sincerely yours, (The Rev.) Scott Wells