Our Ascended Mediator

We worship the Father not in our own name, nor in the significance of our own prayer and worship, but solely in Christ’s name who has so identified Himself with us as to make His prayer and worship ours, so really ours that we appear before God with Christ Himself as our one true prayer and our only worship.

—T. F. Torrance, Space Time and Resurrection, 117

Ascension (a day late)

The purpose of the Ascension is that Christ should take up the position of responsibility and authority that is the proper place for the Son to be. As Christians repeat the words of the Creed in the Liturgies, they are able both to acknowledge that Christ is in His proper place and also that it is the same Christ, who has shared our human condition and who has suffered with us and for us, that is now responsible for the governance of the created order and for our destiny. Jesus, who understands us and our human condition, holds responsibility for our welfare and has the authority to carry out the divine will and purpose.

Peter Atkins, Ascension Now, 73-74

Celebrating the Ascension

Ten Reasons to Celebrate Ascension Day

1. The ascension of Jesus testifies that what we can perceive with our five physical senses is only part of the splendor God has envisioned for us—while doing nothing to denigrate the beauty of our bodily experience of the world around us.

2. The ascension of Jesus gives us language to speak about both Jesus’ absence and presence—his absence from us in the body, and his presence with us through the Holy Spirit. Being honest about Jesus’ absence is the first step to being open to God’s empowering presence with us in the Holy Spirit.

3., The ascension of Jesus depicts the boundary between earth and heaven as permeable. Our prayers cross over this boundary, Jesus’ resurrected body passes through this boundary, and—one day—so will ours.

4. The ascension of Jesus changes how we visualize heaven. It pictures heaven as a place in which resurrected bodies belong. Heaven is not just ethereal and vaporous.

5. The ascension of Jesus changes how we visualize Jesus today. As you read this, in the present tense, Jesus is not passive, but active. Jesus is praying for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 24-25). Jesus is sending the Spirit. Having prepared a place for us, Jesus is actively waiting for us.

6. The ascension of Jesus helps us see lordship and sovereignty as good and gracious. In this sad world, power is equated with bullying or coercive force. In contrast, fusing the words “reigning Lord” and “Jesus Christ” transforms our understanding of power and helps us envision the kind of power that is purely good and altogether lifegiving.

7. The ascension of Jesus changes our picture of suffering. The ascension of Jesus helps us see that heaven is a place that is not indifferent to human suffering (Heb. 4:14-16). This calls us to embrace the overlapping rhythms of worship, pastoral care, and justice. Ascension Day is a profound resource for addressing deep pastoral needs—for those who struggle with depression, guilt, shame, burnout, shallowness, and conflict; for those who are persecuted; for victims of war and violence; for victims of abuse and tragedy.

8. The ascension of Jesus can prevent us from over-identifying with everyday reality. The ascension “sets our minds on things above” (Col. 3:1), and reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. This, in turn, teaches us to invest deeply in our work and daily life, but to hold on to it loosely. It gives us a basis for passionate living that is graced by freedom, not grasping; invitation, not control.

9. Ascension teaches us a lot about ultimate desire, the kind of soul-aching desire that drives so much of our human striving. It reminds us that our ultimate desires cannot be satisfied with life as we know it, that ultimately all God’s saints long for “a better country” (Heb. 11:16).

10. Ascension humbles us. It shows us how limited our minds, imaginations, and words really are. It teaches us to ground our worship in doxology: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

—John Witvliet (originally published in Reformed Worship 115, March 2015)

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Completely prodigal in His love for us, the Son spent all he had. He faced complete humiliation and the dereliction of being cut off even from the sense of his Father’s presence on the cross. Then, in the ascension, He returned home, ragged from his sojourn with us. The Father embraced Him with joyful relief and acceptance, enfolding the Son’s humanity into the robes of his presence.

—Gerritt Dawson, Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation, 62

Ascension 7

This is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, His nativity would have come to nothing . . . and His passion would have borne no fruit for us, and His most holy Resurrection would have been useless.

—Augustine

Ascension 6

TODAY IS ASCENSION DAY!

He has raised our human nature in the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places, there with Him in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in Thine ascension we by faith behold our own.

—Hymn: “See the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph” (Christopher Wordsworth; can be sung to the tune Austrian Hymn)

Ascension 5

In their worship the followers of Jesus experience two contrasting features of Christian faith and worship. First we see the Christ and the faith represented within our culture, as one of us, belonging to our time and culture. From within our life situation we see the gospel meeting our deepest desires and longings as well as challenging some of our assumptions. On the other hand, we see the Christ as calling us beyond our culture into a new universal truth that joins us to all humanity of whatever generation and culture.

Through worship we become very aware of this twofold implication of the doctrine of the Ascension. Christ takes our human experience within the Godhead, and we are taken by the ascended Christ into a new solidarity of being human.

Peter Atkin, Ascension Now, 90

Ascension 4

Alongside the knowledge that our worship lifts us to heaven is our understanding from the Ascension doctrine that God fully understands our human situation. This will save our worship from being otherworldly and a false route to escape facing our problems. Because of the Ascension we can be certain that God in Christ understands the human situation. [Hebrews 4:15-16]

Peter Atkins, Ascension Now, 86

Ascension 2

The ascension of Christ is filled with theological significance. Christ’s ascension means that in heaven there is one who, knowing firsthand the experience of suffering and temptation, prays for us and perfects our prayers. His ascension is a witness and guarantee of our own bodily resurrection, as well as an invitation for us to set our hearts and minds “on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1-2) to rule over all things in heaven and throughout the universe (Eph. 1:10, 20-23).

http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/Ascension-Resource-Guide

Ascension

Many think that the ascension really means the shedding of Jesus’ human nature, as if Jesus is now simply a spiritual presence who used to be human, someone whom we remember with affection rather than someone we expect to see face to face someday. A full-orbed understanding of the incarnation will also proclaim that the incarnation continues, that it is the incarnate Christ who has ascended. Jesus is our contemporary not a historical figure from a dead past. He is living now, interacting with us now, and standing now in a human body in the presence of the Father. He is praying for us now, leading our worship now, feeling our pain now, sharing our humanity now.

—Laura Smit, “The Incarnation Continues,” Reformed Worship 79:4

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I think that one practical implication of the ascension for our corporate worship is that the general tone of the Lord’s Supper should be joyful and celebratory. When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we are not re-creating the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died. Rather, we meet in real time in the present with the risen, ascended, and glorified Christ! When we focus on the cross in our communion songs or meditations or prayers, it ought to be a joyful proclamation of the victory that he won in his death. On this side of the resurrection and ascension, we can now see the cross as the place where Jesus reigned, where he destroyed the old creation order and in doing so, released the world from its bondage to Sin, Death, and the Devil. And of course our communion songs and prayers and meditations should not only be about the cross but also about the resurrection, ascension, and the future fullness of the kingdom yet to come. And that means it is an occasion of supreme joy at the victory of God, of supreme hope in the coming consummation of the kingdom, and of supreme love for the presence of the ascended Christ.

—Michael Farley, Worship Reformation Network post

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The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on high.

—Rev Prof John Duncan (1796-1870) (a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, a missionary to the Jews in Hungary, and Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at New College, Edinburgh; he was affectionately called Rabbi Duncan because of his knowledge of Hebrew and his heart for the Jewish people)

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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, 83-4

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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)

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TODAY IS ASCENSION DAY!

How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?

First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. [Rom 8:34; 1 John 2:1]

Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. [John 14:2; 17:24; Ephes 2:4-6] [As John Duncan put it, “The dust of the earth is on the throne of the Majesty on High.”]

Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge, [John 14:16; Acts 2:33; 2 Cor 1:21, 22; 5:5] by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth. [Col 3:1-4]”

Heidelberg Catechism, Question 49

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