If you didn’t know, 5 June 2011 is Ascension Day. What does the ascension mean? I’ve heard an atheist speaker refer to it as the “Launching of the Lord”. The ascension in Luke-Actts functions to end the resurrection appearances of Jesus and to also indicate his future parousia. However, the ascension also signifies much more than that. Let me give seven things to note about the ascension.
1. Jesus ascends to heaven so that he can send the Holy Spirit to his followers.
2. After Jesus’ ascension there is an expectation for the worship of Jesus and witness to Jesus by the disciples.
3. Jesus’ ascension means that he is exalted to God’s right hand and is invested with divine authority.
4. The ascension demonstrates that God has placed a human being as vice-regent of the universe.
5. Believers embryonically share in the reign of Christ by virtue of their union with Christ.
6. Jesus’ work of intercession continues in his heavenly session.
7. Jesus will return in the same manner that he left.
Many churches follow a liturgical calendar or use a lectionary that includes events like celebrating Ascension Day. I imagine that for some folks this might seem stale and constrictive (esp. when the pastor wants to preach on things like “Twelve Steps to Being a Better Pet Owner” which is not found in the lectionary). The good thing about a lectionary, however, is that you get a regular diet of preaching and readings from the “whole counsel of God” rather than whatever the preacher feels like doing on a given day. If nothing else, I would love to see churches return to celebrating Ascension Day next to Christmas, Easter, Trinity Sunday, and Reformation Sunday. As to why, consider the words of the great textual critic Bruce Metzger: “Ascension Day proclaims that there is no sphere, however secular, in which Christ has no rights – and no sphere in which his followers are absolved from obedience to him. Instead of it being a fairy tale from the pre-space age, Christ’s ascension is the guarantee that he has triumphed over the principalities and powers, so that at his name ‘every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil. 2:10-11).”