Today is Ascension Day, the fortieth day after Easter Day, the day on which we remember the return of Christ to his Father, ascending into heaven. The account in Acts 1 of this event has been depicted time and again in art and is often found in stained-glass windows in churches. For those who do not know the story of the Ascension however, some of this artwork could be very misleading- a group of people looking upwards at a pair of disappearing feet with the rest hidden by clouds, can be somewhat bewildering!
In an attempt to explain Ascension to a group of school children I gave them a word puzzle to solve-
They quickly worked out that it is was Christmas spelt backwards. Which, if simplistic, is nevertheless a good explanation of Ascension-it is Christmas in reverse. At Christmas we celebrate the descension of Christ to earth. In the Incarnation Jesus lays aside the glory of his heavenly home and takes on human likeness, coming down as a helpless babe, identifying with us in all our weakness and frailty.
The words of that wonderful hymn in Philippians sum it up so beautifully….
“ Christ Jesus…who, though he was in the form of God , did not count equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself and taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
But if Christ descended- he is now ascended and today we celebrate his return to his Father’s throne.
I imagine there was quite a commotion when he arrived. Who knows what the reunion of Father and Son looked like? But perhaps, as we emerge from lockdown and reunite with our families and loved one, we can begin to imagine just some of what that must have been like. It would, unquestionably be a holy moment. An intensely private moment. The sort of scene that perhaps, like me, you feel we should tiptoe away from. A place that we have no right to be in.
And yet, when Christ returns home, he does so as a man. He bears our humanity, with all the wounds we have inflicted on him, back to heaven. The path home that he has made through his death and resurrection is one we can walk upon behind him- because he has made it for us. The arms of welcome that embrace the Son, reach out to embrace me and you and all who will come. Sons and daughters, old and young, the lame, the weak, the fearful and the strong-we are all welcome. And we can come with all the scars of our lives. Our sins, our weaknesses, our sufferings, our failures, our diseases, our sorrows-they are welcome in heaven too. Here, the wounded hands of our Lord reach out to pull us in and on, and as we are touched by him, so we are healed and set free. The joy and the tears, the laughter, the dancing and the party that follows the return of the Son is not only for Christ, but for each one of us.
He is the first born from the dead and the highway we now can travel to his home-and ours- runs through our hearts as we follow him.