This week we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension. This feast actually fell on Thursday but because of its importance the diocese transferred its celebration to Sunday. The ascension was and is an integral part of God’s plan to restore our lost glory but as an event it does not stand alone or apart from the entirety of the life and death of Jesus. The importance of the ascension to us is not just that it confirms life after death but that it opened the path for our holiness. The night before he died Jesus was with his disciples in that upper room where Jesus lays out for the disciples and us the meaning of his coming and the impact his dying would have on each of us.
That night in the upper room he said some remarkable things and in order to fully appreciate the meaning of Ascension for us we must go back to that upper room and listen to the words of Jesus. Listen to Jesus as he talks about us – “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me” (Jn. 17:24). We are a gift to Jesus but most of us instead of feeling like a gift we feel like Peter did when he first encountered Jesus – “depart from me for I am a sinner” (Lk. 5:8). God placed our destiny into the hands of Jesus and Jesus says his desire is for us to be with him. This place where Jesus reigns is not just the future kingdom of heaven but instead it includes the kingdom he came to establish on earth. The ascension makes both of those kingdoms our destiny.
Jesus knew God created us for an intimate relationship with himself. Jesus knew God created us to reflect his glory. Jesus knew his purpose of coming to earth was to restore our glory and remove the barrier our sin creates between ourselves and God. His death removed that barrier thus making our intimacy with God possible once more. The plan of God was to give Jesus his most prized creation (us) and through the death of Jesus bring us back to that place of intimacy with God – “where I am they also may be with me.” Where is Jesus – he is at the center of the kingdom of God and because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we too are at the center of God’s kingdom.
Our problem is that we are still striving to please God instead of embracing the gift of love God desires to lavish upon us. “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn. 17:26). There is God’s desire for us in a clear language. God desires to flood us with his love and he has made that possible by giving us not only his son but giving us the third member of the trinity to transform us into holy men and women.
Jesus prepares us for this coming of the Spirit to us by his words in that upper room. It is far better for you that I go because if I do not go the Spirit will not come. This Spirit promised to us by God in the prophecies of Jeremiah (31: 33-34), Ezekiel (36:26-27) and Joel (2:28-29) was God’s plan to change us so our hearts burn with the love of God.
Jesus before he ascends says “I am sending you the promise of the Father, stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then 50 days after his death and resurrection we celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Joel and see the promised outpouring of the Spirit. Today we celebrate not his going to heaven in glory but we need to know that by his ascension Jesus provided the means for us to be transformed into the very image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). The Spirit will change us so that we will always follow him with our whole heart, mind, strength and soul.
Why are we looking toward heaven as if pleading for answers (Acts 1:11) when the answer is found in embracing the entirety of Jesus’ sacrifice so that we can once again reflect the glory of God. This day is about us and our restoration. It is about God’s love for us coming full circle back to the moment he created us in his image and gave us his glory. This day was the final piece in our being restored to the kingdom of God. It made possible the outpouring of the Spirit so we could be equipped for holiness. With the Spirit within us we will lead a life filled with the wonder of God. It is the same choice given to Adam and Eve to be in his presence or we can choose to do it on our own and fail as they did.
I invite you to read the prophesies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Joel to prepare for next Sunday’s feast of Pentecost. Make the words of the prophet your meditation and pray for the Spirit to change your hearts by allowing the Spirit to write God’s law on your heart. Pray for the Spirit to pour the love of God into your heart. Pray for the father’s arms to enfold you as you read Jeremiah’s words “your sin I will forgive and your guilt I remember no more” (Jer. 31:34).