Ascension Day Letter – 2021
A Mandorla, in the Christian iconographic tradition, is an almond shaped frame around a figure. When you see a Mandorla in an icon it is there to alert you that what is inside the frame is pointing to a reality that is beyond our normal vision or understanding. The Ascension of Christ is one of those realities. Even though we admit the Ascension is beyond scientific description, it is a theological reality that changes, and joyfully so, the way we view other realities. How so?
First, it means that Jesus is the King. We still use the language of “ascent” to describe an enthronement. For example, Queen Elizabeth II “ascended” to her throne on 2 June 1953. Ascension Day, always on a Thursday and forty days after Resurrection Sunday, is the formal acknowledgment that Jesus is the King over everything and everyone. The Apostle Paul states the implications of this for us in his letter to the Colossians (3:1-4):
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
The Ascension alerts us to another key reality in that final sentence of this Colossians passage, namely, it promises the return of the King. Jesus will come again to bring to final conclusion what he has started. In other words, Jesus’ prayer – thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – will be realized in the future. Until then, this promise fuels hope, especially in times of crisis and grief.
Next, the Ascension means that earth became part of heaven. No one knows where “heaven” is located, but Christians believe that Jesus still has a body and, as such, he brings humanity into heaven’s place. Malcolm Guite puts this beautifully in his Ascension sonnet: “Earth became part of heaven’s story/ And heaven opened to his human face./ We saw him go and yet we were not parted,/ He took us with him to the heart of things.”
Finally, the Ascension means we are not alone. Jesus did not “depart” to get away from us. Jesus’ Ascension prepares the way for the sending of the Spirit (i.e., Pentecost). The ascension does not mean that Jesus is no longer here among us, but that Jesus is accessible everywhere through the Holy Spirit enlivening his followers. In a season when many people have felt alone, and maybe even abandoned, the reality of the Ascension is that the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of God, is always with us. This is true whether we feel God or not.
If you would like someone else to celebrate this Ascension Day with you are most welcome to join Deacon Arleen tonight (Thursday) at 8:10 p.m. for Compline. Here is the link.
In whatever way you celebrate Ascension Day 2021, may you find yourself embraced in its “mandorla” truth. It may be beyond our normal understanding, but it is, as it has been for Christians throughout the centuries, a source of “great joy” (cf. Luke 24:52).
In Ascension Joy,