Risen – and Ascended! Rev. Godfrey Smallman

“While he (Jesus) was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continuously at the Temple, praising God.” – Luke 24:51-52 (NIV-UK).

When Christians declare their faith by saying the Apostles’ Creed together, one of the things we say as we minister to each other the truths of the faith, is that after Jesus rose from the dead – “…he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead”. I am writing this shortly before 13th May, Ascension Day. The day each year in the Church calendar when we remember Christ’s Ascension, 40 days after Easter. This is a date more often forgotten than remembered these days I suspect. What a pity that is, as we can realise, if we stop for just a short moment to reflect on the richness of its significance for us and for the World.

Luke began his narrative of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple in Jerusalem. Zechariah receives the angelic announcement that he and Elizabeth will have a son, to be called John, who would be known as John the Baptist. We move from there through the birth of Christ, his earthly life and death, his resurrection and then fourthly and finally to his ascension.  It seems to be the end of the story, yet the Disciples, as soon as Jesus has gone and as their very first action, worshipped him – as we do. So, we see here a precursor to every Christian service of worship ever since. No sign of distress. They returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’ – their Master was gone, yet they were joyful! They knew the great work of preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations was about to begin[1] – the task that has been passed down to us. They would not do this alone, so they wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit and Luke writes all about that and what we often call the birth of the Church, in his second volume, Acts[2].

But even that is not the end – it is not ‘keep preaching and do your best’. There is purpose and there will be a conclusion, as the angelic messengers tell the Disciples ‘This same Jesus…will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’. Christ has ascended to be with the Father, exalted to the very throne of Heaven, which we can read about in Revelation[3]. But, as we say in the Creed as a fundamental part of our understanding of the work of Christ, one day Christ will return as judge. Until then our work of living out and declaring the meaning and truth of salvation in the name of Jesus continues, as does our life of worship, prayer and praise.

 But there is one last thing. The Apostle John records for us Jesus’ words “Surely I am coming soon”[4] – and the response of the Church, our response, is – ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’

 [1] Luke 24:47-49

[2] Acts 1:4-11

[3] Revelation 4:21

[4] Revelation 22:20

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