Ascended on High! (8)

The Ascension doctrine helps us to keep a balance between seeing God in Christ as “one of us” and Christ as “from the heart of God.” Too great an emphasis on the Incarnation can distort this balance, so that worship is centered exclusively on the human aspects of worship – our concerns, our needs, our agenda, and our material world. Worship, unless corrected by the dimension of heaven, can become earthbound. The Ascension doctrine reminds us that there is another dimension to worship. We join Christ—rather than Christ coming down to join us—in the eternal nature of heaven, and there our worship is caught up with that of the angels and archangels and the apostles of every generation.

—Peter Atkins, Ascension Now: Implications of Christ’s Ascension for Today’s Church, 83-84

Ascended on High! (7)

The Ascension event allowed the disciples and the current worshiper to access the presence of Christ wherever they were located in time and space.

Even the resurrection appearances allowed Christ to be accessed only by those in certain locations. If Thomas was not with the rest of the disciples when the resurrected Christ appeared, the Thomas had no access to Jesus (John 20:24-29). Thomas had to be in the right location to confront the Christ with his challenge and to respond in faith. After the Ascension, access to Christ was open to any worshiper who drew near in heart and soul. In Christ there was full assurance of access to the Godhead wherever the worshiper might be located.

The expansion of the Church has been built on the principle that Christ and the Godhead can be accessed from any point on the globe and at any time in history. The worshiper is no nearer to Christ in the places of the historical setting of the Jesus of Nazareth. Pilgrimage can enliven faith by making real the geography of the Gospels and assuring the disciple that the gospel is not a fable. We know that the life of Jesus is rooted in geography and in history. Yet the access to the exalted Lord is readily available at whatever time and place suit the worshiper. Christians live by this assumption, but it is important to realize that the assumption rests on the doctrine of the Ascension.

—Peter Atkins, Ascension Now: Implications of Christ’s Ascension for Today’s Church,  93-94

Ascended on High! (6)

The ascension further means that in returning to God, the Risen One takes along the fullness of human life experienced by Jesus, including the worst of earthly agony. Christians have no good reason for doubting that God understands in the most personal possible way our human struggle, sorrows, and defeats. The God who came into our midst as a baby and dwelt among us experienced all things, even to the most severe forms of oppression and suffering; that experience was not a transitory episode to be forgotten by God after thirty years. No, that experience is carried into heaven, that we may know the Most High identifies always even with the least and the lowest.

That is the import of what is otherwise to us the strange language of the Letter to the Hebrews:

For it is clear that [Jesus] did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (2:16-18)

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession [of ffaith]. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (4:14-16)

When celebrated in its fullness, the ascension is a source of great strength to all who suffer.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 70-71

Ascended on High! (5)

TODAY IS ASCENSION DAY!

1  Hosanna to the prince of light,
That cloth’d himself in clay;
Enter’d the iron gates of death,
And tore the bars away.

2  Death is no more the king of dread,
Since our Immanuel rose;
He took the tyrant’s sting away,
And spoil’d our hellish foes.

3  See how the conqu’ror mounts aloft,
And to his Father flies,
With scars of honour in his flesh,
And triumph in his eyes.

4  There our exalted Saviour reigns,
And scatters blessings down;
Our Jesus fills the middle seat
Of the celestial throne.

5  Raise your devotion, mortal tongues,
To reach his bless’d abode,
Sweet be the accents of your songs
To our incarnate God.

6  Bright angels, strike your loudest strings,
Your sweetest voices raise;
Let heav’n, and all created things,
Sound our Immanuel’s praise.

—Isaac Watts

Ascended on High! (4)

Q:  If you could name one theological theme that worship committees could well spend time reflecting on, what would it be?

A:  Christ’s ascension. As our ascended Lord, Jesus not only receives our worship but also perfects our prayers. In fact, Jesus “always lives to intercede for us” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus (and not any other human worship leader) is the true lead worshiper. As we worship it is fitting to think of Jesus as active: praying for us, perfecting our prayers, giving us full access to God. This is pastorally significant because it welcomes us to offer worship even in weakness (Heb. 4:14-16).

Importantly, when we imagine what our ascended Lord is like, we need a balanced view, remembering the one who appears like both a Lion and Lamb (cf. Rev. 5), the one who is both cosmic Lord (Col. 1) but also “who has been tempted in every way, just like us” (Heb. 4:15).

As you study this theme, ask yourselves how well your congregation’s musical diet conveys these themes. Ask worshipers how they imagine what Jesus is doing today (we often fail to realize how active in prayer Jesus is today). Finally, ask whether and how your congregation celebrates Ascension Day. Most of us can do better at giving attention to this remarkable event.

And when we do celebrate Ascension, we need to do a better job of keeping in mind not only Christ’s ongoing role as King, but also his role as Priest (and Prophet). For more insights and practical suggestions on this theme, see Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (Presbyterian and Reformed), and the fine article by Laura Smit in Reformed Worship 79.

—John D. Witvliet, Reformed Worship Issue #80 (June 2006)

Ascended on High! (3)

The key point of Ascension is not that the Son of God has begun to rule. The Son of God has, with the Father and Spirit, ruled all things since the beginning of things. The new thing that happened at the Ascension of Jesus is that the Incarnate Son begins to rule. There is a human being, a man, on the throne at the right hand of the Father, far above all authority; by the ascension, Jesus has fulfilled the original Adamic commission to rule the earth.

And we are in Him. Paul says that just as Jesus is seated in heavenly places, so also in Him we are seated in heavenly places.

—Peter Leithart, “Eucharistic Meditation on Luke 22:29,30