Thursday was the day in the liturgical calendar that we remember the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. It is celebrated forty days after the Resurrection. In addition to marking the day of the Ascension, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of the Acts of the Apostles has contributed much to the structure of the liturgical year from Advent through each season including the season of Easter. In many countries around the world, the day of the Ascension is a nationally revered holy day.
The forty-day period between Easter and the Ascension was a time of preparation for the disciples of Jesus. Jesus was still with them and appeared to them. Jesus helped them to believe not only in his resurrection, but also in living for him, the risen Christ, during his physical absence from their world. Jesus prepared them for their mission as witnesses for a Christian faith. Jesus did not abandon them. As we conclude this season of Easter move to the next, we remember on Pentecost the presence in our lives, as in the lives of the Apostles, of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit and through us, Jesus’ disciples from all the ages, the presence of Jesus Christ continues in our world. In Acts 16:7, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Jesus.
A Reformed tradition, Christian theologian, Karl Barth, describes the Ascension as a change in the perspective from which Jesus shapes the world—no longer from the earth but from a more universal, timeless vantage point. This approach in my opinion overcomes the need to explain scientifically what actually happened in the Ascension event. The nature of Jesus as human and divine continues. The acceptance of mystery is a part of my faith. As unfashionable as it may be, I believe in miracles. And this miracle is a really big one.
So important is it that the author of Luke and Acts ends his Gospel with the Ascension and begins Acts with more about the Ascension. It is the bridge between the life and ministry of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian church. The image with which I chose to begin this reflection depicts the literal Ascension, a glazed terra cotta by Luca Della Robbia, a 15th century Italian sculptor. But I close with an image of a painting from the twenty-first century painter, Lee Davis. I perceive in this second image a shimmering energy and light spanning heaven and earth that represents for me the beauty of the Ascension—a unity that is eternal and beyond the confines of the dimensions of the this world.