December 4, 2020


Ascension, Giotto

By Chaplain Mike

Today’s Gospel: Luke 24:44-53

On a Facebook status update today, John Michael Talbot wrote: “The Ascension is not really a departure. It is entering into a new more dynamic manner of presence beyond the bounds of ordinary space and time. It is the assurance that Jesus is with us always during the ministry He gives unto the end of the age, and a hope for the age to come.”

I like that a lot. Jesus is not gone, not absent, not separated from us. He is with us in a new and different way. Moreover, this “new, more dynamic manner of presence” involves him being over us as exalted Lord. As the Apostle Paul affirms:

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else — not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. (Ephesians 1:19-23, NLT)

One of the reasons I love N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope so much is that it contains an entire chapter about the Ascension and its significance. That’s a rarity, but Wright warns us that without this event we are missing something crucial in our Christian understanding and practice.

What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension? The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church — if, that is, talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than his standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst kind of triumphalism. …and the other side of triumphalism is of course despair. If you put all your eggs into the church-equals-Jesus basket, what are you left with when, as Paul says…we ourselves are found to be cracked earthenware vessels?

• Surprised by Hope, p. 112

This is exceedingly wise and provocative. Jesus is with us, yes. But Jesus is also over us, seated at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places, Head of his Church and Lord of all. There is no room for either triumphalism or despair. Instead, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 1, there is authority and power and hope and fullness for his people who serve as heaven’s ambassadors in the world. We represent the King! He communicates the resources of his Kingdom to us through the Spirit who produces the fruit of love in our lives. And he communicates his presence through Word and Sacrament, those “holy places” in this world where the “heavenlies” intersect with our lives in space and time.

O 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.

Collect, Book of Divine Worship


  1. Next to the Christianity Today article on evolution is a less noticeable essay by Enuma Okoro entitled “Why ‘Happy’ Isn’t a Christian Word”. Here’s what I hope is a relevant quote:

    “As Christians we face the decision each day of which narrative we will live into for one more day: the one where Christ is Lord, or one of the gazillion others up for grabs. It is an ongoing discipline to choose the former, to choose hope especially when the odds seem to be against a hopeful future.”

  2. You quote from Talbot, “The Ascension is not really a departure. It is entering into a new more dynamic manner of presence beyond the bounds of ordinary space and time.”

    That is also what Pope Benedict says in his book about Jesus and Holy Week. Jesus can be with all of us all of the time. Amazing to think about and to experience!

  3. funny how often you write about what i just preached about. reminds me of luther’s quote that the ascension and reign of christ is something that is “active, energetic, and continuous”. good stuff … thanks mike

  4. Clay Knick says

    Excellent, Mike. I love Wright’s book and books.

  5. these are the kinds of topics I enjoy on the imonk. Thank you Chap. Mike. NT Wright is amazing!

  6. Ps 45 – …You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions.

  7. Thank you for this, especially since I missed it yesterday!