August 18, 2019

Jesus’ Ascension and Life as Gift

Traditional German Pilgrims Mark Jesus' Ascension to Heaven, at NBC News

Traditional German Pilgrims Mark Jesus’ Ascension to Heaven – May 29, 2014 (NBC News)

Many churches celebrate Jesus’ Ascension today, though the official observance was this past Thursday (May 29).

We so often leave the Ascension out of our gospel. Christ’s “finished work,” however, includes Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit — all of the above. These great events are the key points in Jesus’ Story, and therefore they shape the Church’s Creeds and we mark them during the liturgical year.

They are also the key events which form what we at IM call a “Jesus-shaped spirituality.”

For some perspective on how the Ascension contributes to our formation in Christ, let’s turn today to one of our favorite authors. Commenting on the words of Ephesians 4 and its use of Psalm 68, Eugene Peterson writes:

Paul lays out the conditions in which we are to grow up, namely, in a profusion of gifts: “When he ascended on high . . . he gave gifts to his people.” The ascended Jesus, Jesus at the right hand of the Father, Christ the King, launched his rule by giving gifts, gifts that turn out to be ways in which we participate in his kingly, gospel rule. This kingdom life is a life of entering more and more into a world of gifts, and then, as we are able, using them in a working relationship with our Lord.

We understand gift language well enough. We begin as gift. We don’t make ourselves. We find our fundamental identity as a gift. And then, immediately, we are given gifts: gifts of love and food and clothing and shelter, gifts of healing and nurture and education and training. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1Cor. 4:7, NIV). “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God?” (The Message). Gradually these gifts develop into the strengths and responsibilities of maturity. Infants are totally dependent on parents, but as children we gradually learn to dress and feed ourselves, make independent decisions, take initiative. Adolescence is the critical transition between childhood and adulthood. It is an awkward and often turbulent time as we learn to incorporate the gifts that we have been given into adult responsibilities. We have been given much. Now we begin exercising those gifts in community. We gradually learn to live what we have been given wisely and well. We grow up.

Paul introduces his Ascension text with the phrase: “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7). Grace (charis) is a synonym for gift. And this gift is not given sparingly, not a token gift, but “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” I take “measure” which he later expands to “that he might fill all things” (v. 10) to carry a sense of extravagance and exuberance. If we are to become mature, we must gradually but surely realize ourselves as gift from first to last. Otherwise we will misconceive our creation as self-creation and end up in some cul-de-sac or other of arrested development.

– Eugene Peterson
Practice Resurrection



  1. Robert F says

    ‘If we are to become mature, we must gradually but surely realize ourselves as gift from first to last. Otherwise we will misconceive our creation as self-creation and end up in some cul-de-sac or other of arrested development.’

    You can color me a case of arrested development. I do, nevertheless, celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ. I see Jesus’ ascension not as a withdrawal but a movement in the direction of deeper incarnation and greater ubiquity of his humanity. The Kingdom of God is in our midst, not in some dimension light years away, and in our midst Jesus and the Father permeate all existence, and our lives, through the Holy Spirit.

    Here in Lancaster County, PA, Ascension Thursday is a big deal among the Amish, perhaps like the black clad traditional German pilgrims in the photo above. It’s considered one of the holiest days of the year: businesses close, people worship. It should have the same calendar importance in our mainline liturgical churches, though it doesn’t.

    • Oh I don’t know, Robert. I think you may be too hard on yourself. You certainly seem to understand and appreciate Christ’s gifts. Like most of us, however, you are mystified by the packaging in which they come wrapped. And that is no shortcoming, just honest human questioning.

  2. This is a rather mundane but still pertinent thought. For the last few hundred years we have come to the sure knowledge that, physically speaking, there is no ascension so to speak as there is no ‘up’. There is only out or away from. The earth,floating in space, has no ceiling above. I only bring that up because I believe that knowledge has tweaked our consciousness of where we are with and in God. I still find myself looking up at the sky, just as the disciples did, when I am praying outside but every time I do I seem to be reminded of the immanancy of Christ here and not up or over there. That’s doesn’t stop me from continuing to look up on occasion. I think I find some childlike comfort in thinking of Him looking over me.

    • I do believe they saw Him ascend only now we might have said that He moved ‘away’. Then again, perhaps not. We regularly dismiss technical and literal inaccuracies in favor of the richer more significant symbolic meanings.

      • Jazziscoolithink says

        I still say up when I look up. Or when a helicopter goes up. I’ve never heard anyone say otherwise–even with my highly sophisticated understanding of the earth in relation to space and other celestial bodies 😉

        And besides, who knows what happened after Christ disappeared into those clouds!

    • Robert F says

      If I ever stop looking to the skies in mystery, hope, wonder, if I ever stop looking to the skies for Christ, it will not be because scientific knowledge has disenchanted me of the idea that there is an “up,” but because the poetry in my soul has died, and consequently my soul has died.

      • Robert F says

        We can do both: we can look up into the sky for Christ, and we can look down into the depths for him. And we can be assured that if there is really no literal “up,” there is no literal “in” either, which is not too different from saying that “up” and “in” are both in many, many directions.

      • Yes. I think you’re right.

    • Dana Ames says

      N.T. Wright points out that “cloud/clouds” is about God’s presence with his people. Do a study and compare where it is used in scripture, and especially how Jesus uses it, and how the Gospel writers (including Luke in Acts) apply it to him.

      Jesus is not “far away” somewhere – “up” is relative in the bible, denoting “God’s s space,” but it always overlaps “our space” – we just can’t see it with our eyes.. Jesus is on the Throne with the Father (in his material body as a Human Being, as well as God!!!), from there ruling all.

      Here are a couple of liturgical hymns we sang Thursday, and again today:

      Thou wast born as Thou Thyself didst will; Thou didst appear of Thine own choice; Thou didst arise from the dead, trampling down death; Thou didst ascend in glory, O Thou who fillest all things, and didst send unto us the Divine Spirit, that we may praise and glorify Thy Divinity.

      When Thou hadst fulfilled Thy dispensation for our sakes, uniting things on earth with the heavens, Thou didst ascend in glory, O Christ our God, departing not hence but remaining inseparable from us, and crying unto them that love Thee: I am with you, and no one can be against you.


  3. Rick Ro. says

    Here’s a little something I wrote eons ago…

    Why Don’t I?
    (Rick Rosenkranz)

    The top
    of my neighbor’s dirty truck
    is always looking up.

    Why don’t I?

    • Rick Ro. says

      (Hmm…I tried to do that from memory and kinda failed. Here’s the actual poem. I like ending the poem at “…always gazes up” n the “new” version. Not sure the “at heaven” is necessary. Anyway, here’s the actual poem.)

      Top of the Truck
      Rick Rosenkranz (2008)

      Top of the neighbor’s
      dirty brown truck
      always gazes up
      at heaven.

      Why don’t I?