As mighty and wonderful as the Resurrection of Christ is, it is not complete or effectual for us without the Ascension. The Jacobean prelate, Lancelot Andrewes, in his 1622 Easter Day sermon before the King and Court, clearly demonstrated this:
The Resurrection itself is for an end, it is not the end; it is but a state yet imperfect, but any entry to a greater good, which unless it leads us and brings us to, ‘non habetur propositum’, it is short, short of that it should be. ... To rise is nothing but to ascend out of the grave, ... to rise as high as heaven, then we are truly risen. ... The resurrection itself is no Gospel, not of itself unless ‘ascendo’ follow it.
Recall on that first Easter morn, our Lord’s first message is to Mary Magdalen, “Go to my brethren , and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God” (Jn. 20: 17).
In the Johannine gospel, Jesus tries to teach his disciples the importance of the ascension, He did this by stressing if He were to be with always He must return to his heavenly home in order for the Spirit, the Holy Spirit to be sent into their hearts. This Spirit would lead them into all truth and be their comforter and guide. The Truth would give them and us too abundant life because it rejects all hypocrisy, deceit and errors. That is what Christ meant when He said “because I live, you too will live.” It is by possessing Truth that we shall be able not only to receive Christ’s commands, but also to obey them. When we obey His commands we love our Lord. That love will not go unrecognised because Jesus assured us that they who love God, both the Father and the Son will love in a very special way.
This is the Ascension message: “I am coming back to you”. We are no longer left to our own devices and muddle. There is a direction to everything. Not only do we possess the Truth to give this direction, but the Truth Himself has guaranteed that the Father will welcome us home as He welcomed His Son. We know that our presence is very much wanted there, and that is our glorious reward providing we stay faithful and obey His commands.
Jn. 14. 26 the Paraclete, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
In the Johannine community, the Paraclete, was always acknowledged, their teacher. In the early church,
In ch. 15 is the teaching of the vine and branches. Our lives can only bear fruit if both are connected. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Michael Ramsey reminded us, “the Church [only] exists by the power of the Holy Spirit. Whether as fellowship, or body, or temple, or people of God, it has no existence apart from the impact of the Holy Spirit upon human lives.” So we must try to live so that we never do anything to stifle or hinder the free-flowing Spirit, but allow Him to take us wherever He beckons.
The impact of the Ascension was soon seen amongst Christ’s earliest followers as vividly described in ACTS. The disciples, Mary, the women awaited for the Lord’s words to be true as they waited for the Spirit to come in prayer, the breaking of bread and fellowship. To realize the implication of this we only have to compare the lives of His chosen before and after Pentecost. As we ponder on the events of that first Pentecost we behold the power of the Spirit in transforming and mending lives. Peter and others simply cannot contain their experiences of the Spirit as they ardently desire to share their knowledge of Christ with others. Thus on that Pentecost morning after Peter preached that stirring pesher (an interpretation of scripture) the people responded to know what they must do. The answer from Peter is to repent and be baptised and receive this same Spirit (Acts 2. 14ff). Furthermore, when Peter addressed the lame man at the Gate Beautiful he told him, “I have no silver or gold; but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk” (Acts 3. 6).
Those early days after Christ’s ascension manifested what it meant to live in the power of the risen and glorified Lord. People repented and were baptized as they responded to the preaching of the Good News; they sold their goods and lived communally; they prayed and broke bread together; they cared for one another through acts of charity. Their lives took on that other dimension, that essential dimension of experiencing eternal life now through the Spirit.
Christ is exalted on this day and returns to His heavenly Father, taking back with Him, as Charles Wesley rightly indicated in one of his hymns, “those glorious scars”. As both God and man, He is the heavenly Intercessor or as HEBREWS described “The great High Priest”.
“He has entered heaven ... to appear now before God on our behalf.” He is “a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek” and “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” As His priesthood is now perpetual, “He is able to save completely those who approach God through him, since he is always alive to plead on their behalf.” Thus through our eternal High-priest, we can boldly approach the heavenly throne “in sincerity of heart and the full assurance of faith” (Heb. 5. 6, 8 - 9, 7. 25, 9. 24, 10.11).
When we receive Christ at the Eucharist it is the Risen and Ascended Christ we receive, not the broken body on the Cross as many wrongly maintained. Calvary can never be repeated. It was the once offering of Christ to the Father in obedience to Him.
It is in the same “sincerity of heart” that we can also approach the altar day by day. Christ’s manhood unites perpetually with the Eucharist with his heavenly oblation. “The offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” was made at Calvary. That can never be repeated, “Christ, having offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, took his seat at God’s right hand (Heb. 10. 12). Here by God’s “right hand” Christ offers this “one perfect and sufficient sacrifice” as His heavenly oblation, just as the priest at the altar offers up the sacrifice of Calvary as a commemoration, of which the offering of the bread and wine symbolise the sacrifice “of ourselves, souls and bodies”.
Ephesians 1.20-21 assures us of the sovereignty of Christ. He is indeed the Sovereign, “the great King over all the earth”. Before Him we and all creation must bow down and give Him worthy homage as the ruler of all. As we read in to-day’s New Testament lesson, God “enthroned Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all government and authority, all power and dominion, and any title of sovereignty that commands allegiance” (Ep. 1. 20 - 1). In giving His Son this honour the Father has “put all things in subjection beneath His feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Ep.1. 22).
Before Him we and all creation must bow down and give Him worthy homage as the ruler of all.
Even psalm 47 assures us too of the importance of the Ascension.
To the shout of triumph God has gone up. The Lord has gone up at the sound of the horn.
Praise God, praise him with psalms; praise our king, praise him with psalms, for God is king of all the earth.