Ascension: bringing the Incarnation full-circle

Thursday was Ascension Day, one of the most important and yet least celebrated events in the broader Church calendar.

We’ve just had Easter — the celebration of our Lord’s bodily Resurrection. The grave and sin were conquered.

Then, we had 40 days to walk with the risen Lord through the Easter season, until the Gospel turns to this event, about a 40-minute walk outside Jerusalem:

“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)

We’re told the disciples experienced “great joy.” But, when I try to place myself in their sandals, I imagine sadness, even despair, at seeing Christ fade out of sight.

We just witnessed the crucifixion, then the elation of Easter morning. And now, far too soon, Yeshua is leaving us again.

So, why joy?

Because Ascension brings Incarnation full-circle.

At the Feast of the Annunciation, and more commonly at Christmas, we celebrate Christ becoming incarnate — God’s word becoming flesh in Jesus.

Christ, who “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 1:1), chose to join us in our frailty, to be tempted and to suffer as one of us, simultaneously both fully human and fully divine.

In life, in death and in resurrection, Jesus Christ remained fully human, fully divine.

At Ascension, Christ retains that fully human nature, elevating human flesh to the right hand of God. At Incarnation, God came down into human flesh. In Ascension, human flesh rose to God.

The powerful image of Christ ascending, then, isn’t one of separation.

It is Christ showing us that God truly loves us in all our humanity— that Christ will ever remain with us in spite of our frailty, and in spite of the many ways our flesh leads our spirit astray.

Even as they awaited the Holy Spirit, the disciples knew Christ would be with them, and they with Christ, because he’d just demonstrated God’s perfect love for our human imperfection.

I’d like to close with the prayer for Ascension Day, and its reminder of Christ’s eternal presence within each of us:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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