Ascension Day

Ascension Day is one of those days on the liturgical calendar that doesn’t often get its due. It’s always 40 days after Easter— which means that it’s always on a Thursday. And, well, Thursdays in May are pretty busy for most of us, most of the time. Ascension Day is important, though— so important that we include it in the Apostle’s Creed: “…he ascended into heaven…”

But what’s the big deal? Well, here’s the story as it’s recorded in Luke 22: 44-53:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

For many Christians, Easter is the climax of the Jesus story: death was defeated once and for all in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this is indeed really good news! Each of us needs to hear this hope, that because of the resurrection, we too will have new life. Stopping at Easter, though, means we miss the rest of the story. After forty days of teaching and eating and fishing with the disciples, Jesus, in the flesh, ascended into heaven.

This is a really big deal. Jesus, in his body marked with scars, was raised into the full presence of God. In case you don’t remember, there were a lot of rules about who and what could be in God’s presence, all of which boiled down to: nothing less than perfect and holy could endure God’s presence. Simply being near to God was liable to end in destruction of anything or anyone unworthy. And on Ascension Day we remember that Jesus Christ incarnate ascended into heaven in a body that had endured hunger, thirst, abuse, torture, and even death. 

Ascension Day stands in opposition to the messages that tell us that our bodies aren’t good enough. Jesus Christ, God in a body, took his full embodied self into heaven. God isn’t just interested in preserving our spirits, but instead in restoring our whole selves to everlasting life. Ascension Day reminds us that our bodies are not husks to be discarded, but part of God’s good creation, equally included in God’s mercy and redemption. 

May this Ascension Day be a reminder to you that your body is part of God’s good creation, warts and scars and all.