The Lord tells us, “What is exalted among men is an abomination with God” (Luke 16:15). The reverse is also true. Following the lead of our Lord, who praised the widow for giving her mite and yet excoriated the outwardly righteous Pharisees, the Christian Church has always been fascinated with things the world dismisses. At her best, she does not care for the things the world has to offer; sad to say, the visible Church is not always at her best. But generally it is true: the Church pays attention to and loves things the world would just as soon cast aside.
Take the feast of Ascension. To the unbeliever’s eye, Ascension is a non-event. Jesus flies up into heaven, His disciples no longer see Him, and they go away rejoicing? What kind of a celebration is that? And yet Christians rightly celebrate and cherish Ascension day, for this day signifies that Christ has taken His power and begun to reign. Having finished His hard service of winning our salvation, He sat down at the right hand of God. He does not stand as the Old Testament priests did, day after day, performing sacrifices that can never really take away sins. No! He has given the ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice above all other sacrifices: Himself. With His holy, precious blood and His bitter sufferings and death, He has purchased humanity once more for God. All is completed. Nothing more remains to give to God. Jesus has paid it all! Having destroyed death’s power, “on Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of mine ascension,” as we sing in the hymn. He has gone before us, to show us where one day we will go, and how: through faith in His blood.
Our hope that we express through Jesus’ ascension is not only for the far-off future in heaven. It’s a right-now, every-day, day-in, day-out hope. We have a living reliance on Christ our perfect Savior, because He lives and longs to hear us pray. We can picture Him sitting at the Father’s right hand, bending down, just waiting for us to pray – intent only on us, that He might hear us when we call. Your prayers are never in vain! They accomplish far more than any earthly means. They give better protection than any AR-15 or police force. They provide far better than all the world’s stores of silver and gold. They are worth more than all the rich and powerful friends one could ever hope to have. Your Savior loves you and longs to hear you pray! That thought alone should move us to pray often.
Jesus also ascends into heaven to send us the Holy Spirit from heaven. He Himself tells us as much in John 16, from which a string of gospels for Eastertide are taken: ”But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:7,12,13). The Holy Spirit is our Helper – thus that word behind what some translations give as Advocate can be rendered. He helps us in whatever way we need help. He helps us with His sevenfold gifts. Above all, He helps us by strengthening our faith, without which we would be lost, both in this world and eternally. What a priceless gift!
Not for nothing did the Venerable Bede, a Christian monk and teacher in the 8th century, fill his great hymn on the Ascension “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” with alleluias – 42, if you’re scoring at home. When you consider all that Ascension signifies and gives us, that’s really the only word for it: Alleluia! Praise the risen and ascended Lord! Alleluia! Amen.