Ascension Day

We trust you will enjoy this special webcast for the Ascension of Our Lord. Ascension is one of the major festivals of Jesus but because it always occurs on a Thursday (technically the 40th day after Easter) and is not transferred to the following Sunday – it often passes many of us by. This is a pity because the Ascension is theologically significant and in my reflection below I will explore the practical daily living implication of a theological tension running through how we can think about the Ascension.

Reflection in Music and Word for the Ascension of Our Lord

Webcast produced by Christian Tulungen

Reflection Structure

Prelude: Allegro from Symphony II by Louis Vierne, Stephen Young, organist.

Hymn 494 “Crown him with many crowns” Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA

The Readings

Acts 1:1-11 read by Linda+

Psalm: 93 Choir of King’s College Cambridge

Ephesians 1:15-23 read by Linda+

Gradual Hymn: 460 vv. 1-2 “Alleluia! sing to Jesus” Rowland H. Pritchard · William C. Dix · Robert E. Kreutz · Randall DeBruyn

Gospel: Luke 24:44-53. proclaimed by Linda+

Gradual Hymn: 460 v. 3

Reflection Theology Matters: Mark+

Anthem: “God has gone up”, words by Edward Taylor set to music by Gerald Finzi, sung by the choir of Wells Cathedral, England. Taylor’s text appears below.

Anthem Text

Edward Taylor (1646? – 1729), “Meditation Twenty”

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.

Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev’ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.

The First Collect for the Ascension of Our Lord

Let us pray:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his
promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end
of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory
everlasting. Amen.

Hymn 450 “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE

The Postlude: Scherzo by Edouard Commette, Steven Young organist

Stand Alone Reflection Podcast and Text

Theology Matters

Mark’s+ stand alone reflection on the Ascension

Theology matters because theology maps out our view of the world- dictating the values we hold and the way we chose to live our Christian lives.

When we look at the collects for the Ascension we find there are two, not one. My concern is that the thrust of each collect sets different priorities for living the Christian life.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his
promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end
of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory
everlasting. Amen.

compare

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your
only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended
into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend,
and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I think you get a sense of what I’m getting at.

The Ascension is the pivotal transition point between the earthly and post resurrection ministry of Jesus and the empowerment of the community of the Church to carry on the work Jesus began. It is most fully fleshed out by Luke who develops a chronological view – rather like a chapter book: Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and then his ascension. With his ascension Jesus leaves the stage of salvation history making way for God’s next great move – the sending of the Holy Spirit. Through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit the Church – community of believers becomes literally the Body of Christ in the world.

Q: I can’t really take seriously the idea of Jesus floating up through the clouds with feet dangling into a separate realm three miles above the earth.

A: Yes, some very bad Ascension-tide theology in prayers and hymns pictures Jesus jettisoning his humanity like a discarded suit of clothes as he ascends through the clouds to heaven where a fine new set of divine clothes await him. This image is not only unhelpful for most of us today. In the language of the second collect above it encourages us to focus on our spiritual ascending away from the focus of this world in the here and now. The Ascension is actually the opposite from the popular image of Jesus floating heavenward – shedding his humanity like his garments in the process. Instead I encourage you to think of it in these terms. The Ascension of Jesus is God incorporating the fullest expression of being human – now represented by the post-resurrection human Jesus –  into the divine identity.

Q:  Where exactly does Jesus go?

A: The first Christians didn’t think about heaven as somewhere up there. This is a later medieval idea. They pictured heaven being all around them. They made a distinction between heaven and earth or put in more contemporary language a distinction between God-Space and Our-Space. The first Christians understood heaven and earth, God Space and Our Space, not simply as different places but as interleafing and interpenetrating dimensions.

Today, we no longer possess a Medieval imaginary. A better inspiration for our imaginations is drawn from the world of science fiction. To make a contemporary Sci-Fi analogy, God-Space and Our-Space are parallel dimensions occupying the same place or location. I like this Sci-Fi notion of parallel dimensions because it bannishes the unworkable imagery of the Middle Ages and brings us closer to how the writers of the New Testament understood the relationship between heaven and earth.

Q: Wow, so, when I die, I will cross over into God-Space in the same way as Jesus at the Ascension?

A: Yes, you could put it this way. But being with God in God-Space is not the ultimate goal of our living. Our goal is to work tirelessly to implement the expectations of God-Space within Our-Space before we die. The human Jesus passed through the interdimensional boundary – from Our-Space to God-Space, in order that the dynamic Spirit of God could move back across in the other direction – from God-Space to infuse Our-Space to equip us to collaborate with God in the real time healing of the world.

Q: Is that not quite a responsibility?

A: That’s well put. Through being God’s agents in Our-Space we are assisting God in preparing for an eventual time when Our-Space and God-Space become One-Space. God’s incorporation of Jesus’ full humanity in the Ascension is a foretaste of what the Bible refers to in the language of a new heaven and a new earth.

Q: So the Ascension really sets-out the Our-Space agenda then?

A:  It clears the stage for the next act -so to speak – coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the everpresent, dynamic expression of the Divine Community – a concept we will revisit when we come to celebrate the Holy Trinity.

The Irish poet John Donohue in his final stanza of Morning Offering captures it the Our Space agenda:

May [we] have the courage today

To live the life that [we] would love,

To postpone [our] dream no longer

But do at last what [we] came here for

And waste [our] heart[s] on fear no more. Amen

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