JD Walt has an interesting post asking about the point of the Ascension. We get this strange story at the start of Acts where Jesus is "taken up" from their sight, hidden by a cloud, and the disciples are left looking up into the sky. Why? What does it mean?
The Reformers struggled with it. Finding it important, but not really saying why, they gave it a place of honour and confusion in some of the great statements of Protestant Faith. The Westminster Catechism says:
He ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession. So why the aeronautics? Is heaven in the sky?
The Heidelberg Catechism (always a favourite of mine - I was caught out on this at my interview for Oxford a million years ago) tries harder:
Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead. I'm glad it's for our benefit; but how exactly? I mean - how exactly is all that floaty floaty stuff for our benefit? Well, it asks this question (not in those precise words, you'll understand) and answers:
First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit. Now I think that something important is being said here - especially in the second item, though it sounds a bit clinical for my tastes in this version, and I'd like a bit more majesty in my theology. So I want to tease this out a little.
You see, I think the Ascension is one of those events that is a "beyond words" event. Like Pentecost. Read Acts 2 - there was no mighty wind & tongues of fire, only things like the sound of a mighty wind and something that looked like tongues of fire. It was beyond words. Luke is describing the indescribable. And so it is the same in Acts 1: Jesus is "taken up" or "ascended" - but the same word in John 17.1 means he "lifted up" his eyes, and in Acts 2.14 it means Peter "raised" his voice. As for the cloud that "hid" Jesus, the same word means "assume" or "suppose" in Acts 2.15. My point is - we have difficult, compressed, complex pictorial language describing something experience can't easily compartmentalise; and we reduce it the picture at the top of this post to our peril.
Because then we lose the point, as we try pointlessly to cling on to Jesus' sandals, and end up staring with the eleven into the space where he was rather than seeing with wonder the glory of the creation he now fills - but differently.
John 1. The great prologue. In the beginning was the Word. Jesus, the Son, with the Father & the Spirit from all eternity. Trinity 1-0-1. Colossians 1.15 and following - he is before all things - the creator with the Father. Hebrews 1. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. But look how Hebrews continues at that point:
After he had provided purification for sins he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. He goes back to the Father. Returns home. But the Ascension says -
He goes home different to how he left.
He left heaven as God. God the Son. The Second person. The Word.
He returns as God. God the Son. The Second person. The Word. In human flesh. Glorious, resurrected, perfected human flesh. But human. When he leaves the disciples he makes it clear - he does not change out of his final fleshly suit and with relief go, "thank God that's over". He returns home fully God and fully man.
The Ascension assures us that God's love is not temporary, not for a season, not here today and gone tomorrow. But that our humanity is wonderfully, strangely, unimaginably at the heart of our God. The difference between bacon & eggs at the heart of God. (Bacon, you understand, for the pig, being real commitment; eggs for the chicken not quite so much.) His love is totally committed to you and to me; he wasn't wearing it on his sleeve, he wasn't wearing it at all. It was for real, and for always. There is a part of Almighty eternal God, Lord of all Creation, Maker of all things that is ever and always human.
Now if that isn't worth us stopping and celebrating and dropping our jaws and giving thanks for, I'm not sure what is.