Forty days after Easter we celebrate Ascension Day, marking the end of Christ’s time here on earth and his return to heaven. What would we have seen if we had been present? The Bible doesn’t go into detail. At the end of his Gospel St Luke tells us:
‘While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. ’ Luke 24:51
He expands this slightly in the Acts of the Apostles:
‘He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going…’ Acts 1:9-10
The later addition to St Mark’s Gospel says:
‘He was taken up into heaven, and he sat at the right hand of God.’ Mark 16:19
The only other biblical reference to the Ascension is in what is possibly a quotation from an early Christian hymn:
‘He was taken up in glory.’ 1 Timothy 3:16
It isn’t exactly clear what the disciples saw happening, but it was clearly different from the other occasions when Jesus left them during those forty days after Easter. This time he didn’t just vanish; he was ‘taken up’. This time they knew that they would not see him again. But they went back to Jerusalem, not in sorrow, but in joy.
They had Jesus’s promise that he would be with them always, and that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. He had said to them:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ John 14:1-3
And it’s as true for us now, as it was for them. The way to heaven is open for us as we put our trust in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
I’ll finish with some words that link the Ascension with St Paul’s teaching about us being parts of Christ’s Body, the Church. I don’t remember where I found them; they were described as “From a teacher’s notebook”, so presumably part of a pupil’s RE work. Not perhaps theologically accurate, but nonetheless gloriously true:
“At the Ascension our Lord’s head went into Heaven but his limbs (us) remained on earth for the time being. But we’ll get there in the end because the limbs and the head are all joined together.”
Revd. David Newman