But the Ascension is more than that. Much more.
The Ascension is the church’s observance of Christ’s ascent into heaven, as told by St. Luke in both the Gospel of Luke (24:44-53) and in the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11). According to Luke, this event took place 40 days following Easter, after Jesus appeared to his disciples. Attached to his ascent into heaven is a promise of Christ’s bodily, incarnate, flesh-and-blood return to earth: “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,” the angels tell his disciples (Acts 1:11b). Christ’s return will inaugurate the full establishment of his kingdom on earth.
The angels say, “He will come.”
We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” in the Lord’s Prayer.
We confess, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end,” in the Nicene Creed.
Christ’s ascent into heaven is directly connected with his return to earth, and his return to earth – popularly referred to as the “Second Coming” – is directly connected to the reign of his kingdom. And his kingdom is a marvelous thing.
What is Christ’s Kingdom? It would take more than a newsletter article to describe it, but a few details are helpful … Christ’s Kingdom is that realm ruled by Christ and established at the Easter event when the fundamental laws of life and death were forever broken … death no longer is the final answer. In fact, prior to Jesus’ resurrection we see glimpses of this new Kingdom in his miracles of raising the dead to life, casting out demons, and healing the sick.
But more. The kingdom of God is also marked by abundance and joy, where all are filled with good things and have no need … like a grand feast. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear,” the prophet Isaiah writes (25:6). It is a feast not unlike what we see in Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitudes (Mark 6, Mark 8, and elsewhere), where all were filled and baskets full of food was left over. The kingdom is filled with the joy of finding a lost child (Luke 15), the tearing down of human divisions (Luke 10), and the reign of love (John 13).
If Easter shows us the new reality that God is making in the world – a reality where sin and death don’t have complete control – the Ascension is a reminder that this new reality will come for all the world … that Christ who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven is coming back to earth to finish what he started, to establish his grace-filled rule “on earth as it is in heaven.”
So go ahead, and mark your calendar – The Ascension of our Lord is on May 21. Give thanks to God for the resurrection on that day, for the blessings of Christ’s Kingdom, and for the promise that “He will come again … and his kingdom will have no end.”