Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (John 20:17, ESV)
Like the first disciples after the resurrection, we experience Jesus without seeing him! But there is another decisive happening – 40 days after the Resurrection; one that we often under-emphasize: the Ascension. An ancient hymn says:
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your appointed work for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly….and cried out to those who love You, “I am with you and no one is against you.” (ancient hymn for the Feast of the Ascension)
Why is it so significant that Jesus is our ascended Lord? Jesus said it in commissioning his disciples; “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mat. 28) As N. T. Wright reminds us, this isn’t a ‘beam me up’ science fiction story. Rather, it conveys Jesus’ Lordship and freedom from space-time limitations. “Up and down” language is metaphorical in the Bible. “God’s space” (heaven) and “our space” (earth) are not far away, but near. Jesus, the embodied man is already Lord of all (yes, he did not cease being a man!); he is also divine; he is present in one way by the Holy Spirit, but is also absent from this world. And the ascension has the guarantee attached that he will appear again when the end comes! “Jesus is in heaven, ruling the world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete.” ( Surprised by Hope, p. 117) Wright, in his groundbreaking book has a wonderful way of explaining this. Jesus is like a new CEO taking charge of a company that is a mess. (sound familiar?) and we are his messengers, called to work for our Lord’s new way of doing things. We take orders from him. He is interceding for us (Heb. 7:25) and has equipped us with His Spirit and gifts for service, backed by his preeminent authority. We are therefore both humble and confident as we get busy at our calling; as we seek to make a difference in this time between his ascension and his appearing, when ALL things will be made right! 2 Corinthians 4:6ff. captures the tension and the hope that is ours.
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
Come, Lord Jesus!