For most of my life I didn’t know what the “day of ascension” was or why it mattered. Now I think about it all the time.
A bit of context: After his resurrection Jesus stays with the disciples for forty days, reminding them of all he taught and getting a few last quality hang outs in. Then he takes them to a mountaintop, says goodbye, and “ascends.” Jesus literally rises up in the air and a cloud covers him from the disciples sight. It’s a bizarre way to go, but forget the practical questions around the miraculous disappearance.
The real question for me is why he left at all.
Think about it: After the resurrection Jesus was walking around with a scarred body and holes in his hands. Presumably he could have scheduled a tour and showed the entire world his scars, just like he showed Thomas. And if Jesus’ goal was to get everyone to believe that he raised from the dead, then this would be a very effective method. Jesus could have walked town to town, convincing people he was the resurrected King, and he would have very solid evidence. If post-resurrection bodies aren’t corruptible, he could have continued to live longer than his disciples, parading his resurrected body for all time.
By 150 he’d be the new King of the Roman empire. By the 1500’s he’d have a book deal. In the 1970's he’d have a late night talk show. In 2019 he’d have the top podcast and youtube channel.
And we’d all believe he raised from the dead. We really would. It would be the sort of hard fact that no one could disprove.
And what would be the message of his resurrection to us? That he’s the strongest. The toughest. The most successful.
That he’s the King because he’s the top dog.
And how would that “good news" be any different from all the other kings and rulers?
Jesus intended to launch a subversive Kingdom, a nation without borders, made up of servants who would love everyone, even their enemies. He called his disciples to trust the invisible power of God over chariots and swords. He was willing to suffer for what was right, even being nailed to a cross without a hint of victory.
How could he continue to call his disciples to that if they had visible evidence he was also the most powerful person who ever lived? How could he get them to pledge allegiance, not just to the lion, but the lamb who was slain?
If “the medium is the message” then the medium of Jesus couldn’t just be another king who overcame his enemies through power. It wasn’t enough to overcome the cross with love.
Jesus needed a way to rule without ruling.
Which brings us to the ascension.
He showed his disciples how to live like he lived, taught them to recognize the work of God all around them, promised he would empower them by his Spirit, and then he left.
The work is in their hands now. The good news can’t be proven in a lab, but must be experienced in community. The power his disciples receive will look radically unlike the power of the world around them.
The Kingdom of God will continue to grow slowly, below the surface, invisible to the powerful around us. And that can only happen because Jesus isn’t here anymore.
So go be Jesus today: Love your neighbours, pray with conviction, gather with other disciples, eat with friends and strangers, offer reckless grace, release your grip on all your possessions, sing songs of praise, and trust in the Lord.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
― Teresa of Avila
The image above is an Orthodox Icon, though I could not locate the authors name.