“He ascended into Heaven”

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17,11B-19

‘Christ really rose from the dead, and took again His body, with flesh, bones and all that belongs to the perfection of Man’s nature, and in them He entered Heaven until he returns to judge all men at the last day.’

Some Christians find the Ascension of God the Son is the hardest aspect to grasp about the Incarnation. That maybe because we have already had experiences (however slight) of Birth, Passion Death and Resurrection but not of Ascension. We all experienced birth – though we can’t remember it. We know that death awaits us all; and Scripture (by analogy) likens Resurrection to us, “waking up from sleep”, [Psalm 17:15] “I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” But we don’t have any experience to compare with the Ascension. Thinking about aircraft or spaceships is no help!

Anonymous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s view the Ascension through God’s eyes. Since Jesus, God Incarnate, experienced it and shares our Human nature, we can reasonably ask “Why was His Ascension necessary?”

Jesus said to His Apostles, “The Truth is that it is for your own good that I am going; because unless I go, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I do go I will send Him to you” [John 16:7]. His words indicated that the “Incarnational Phase” of God’s Atonement-Plan had developed into, but not been superseded by, what we might call its ‘Sacramental’ Phase. Although Jesus did not cease to be Human – ‘His Manhood pleads where now it lives on Heaven’s eternal throne’; but His bodily appearances had now ended, with one or two exceptions.

After His Ascension, serious questions faced the Church. For example: “Can Gentiles become Christians, and must they accept the Jewish Law; how does Jesus want His Church to be governed – from the top-down or the bottom-up?” Such questions could no longer be avoided by saying, “Let’s wait till the next time Jesus appears amongst us to give us the answer”. The Ascension signified that it was now the responsibility of His Followers to lead His Church into all truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, They must learn to stand on their own feet.

But there is a third, and compelling reason, why the Ascension was necessary. Instead of Christ appearing bodily in a succession of places and different times, the Church itself was to become “The Body of Christ on Earth”. So instead of being present in His earthly body (which could only be in one place at a time) Jesus could, and would, be present as the Host at every Eucharist, anywhere and everywhere, regardless of where or when it was celebrated, and Christians could “feed on Him in their hearts by faith with thanksgiving” wherever and whenever two or three of us gather together in His Name. How could they have been better persuaded of this than by the Ascension? The fact that His promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled within ten days was an indication that the Ascension, far from being the end of His Incarnation, was the start of an entirely New Chapter, and led them to understand what He meant by saying both “It is for your own good that I am going”, and “I am with you always, even to the end of time”.

Fr. Francis Gardom

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