Blessed Ascension Day! (A Meditation on the catholic Tradition)

“He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.”

-Ephesians 4:10, ESV

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

-Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV

“He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.”

-The Apostles Creed

Today the Collect in the morning prayers for the Church of England reads:

“Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens,
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen”

We raise our hearts and minds toward the ascended King, Christ our Lord. Our days our filled with an endless cycle of spectacles and liturgies that seek to capture and shape our imaginations and devotions towards endless other kingdoms. As we move through this day, let us think about the implications of the Ascension of our Lord, how this effects our not only our individual circumstances, but also the holy catholic Church.

When we think of the work of Christ, we have the tendency to limit His work to the cross. He is but a moral example, and His death atones for our sins. There is a gap in our understanding of how His work actually matters for us here and now. We must not limit His work solely to the cross. The whole sum of His life (Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension) are inextricably linked. Without the Incarnation, God cannot truly save us. To borrow the latin phrase “The Unassumed is the Unhealed”. Without living His perfect life as the Incarnate Word (both God and man), our humanity could not be healed and we could not be rescued and set free ‘from the tyranny of the devil’ (Heidelberg Catechism, 1:5). Without His death our sins would not be atoned for, and our chains would still be bound. Without His resurrection we are not assured of our resurrection. Without His ascension, He could not be head over the Church, we could not be assured of our redemption: past, present and future, we would not be given the Holy Spirit and Christ could not be our intercessor between us and God. When we recite the Apostles Creed, we are reminded of the importance of His entire life as the work of our redemption.

I have been going through the Belgic confession over the past few months, arguably my favorite confession, and it offers so many beautiful phrases that point to how wonderful the work of Christ is on our behalf:

“For since the soul had been lost as well as the body, Christ had to assume them both
to save them both together.” -Article 18 (Incarnation)

“These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and truly human—true God in order to conquer death by his power, and truly human that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh.” -Article 19 (Two Natures of Christ)

“We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means
to reconcile ourselves with God than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.” -Article 21 (Atonement)

“However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us— for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours, they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.” -Article 22 (Faith)

“We believe that this true faith, produced in us by the hearing of God’s Word
and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates us and makes us new creatures, causing us to live a new life and freeing us from the slavery of sin.” -Article 24 (Sanctification)

“For Christ himself declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why should we seek another intercessor? Since it has pleased God to give us the Son as our Intercessor. let us not leave him for another—or rather seek, without ever finding.” -Article 26 (Christ’s Intercession)

After the confession deals with the doctrine of Christ, or a basic overlay of Reformed Christology, it moves onto the doctrine of the Church. Here I find the most beautiful picture of how God is the One who determines, establishes and defends the Church:

“This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small to human eyes—as though it were snuffed out.” Article 27

Karl Barth gives us a wonderful picture of what the Christian believes in light of the Ascension:

“We believe that we are redeemed, set free, children of God, i.e., we accept as such the promise given us in the Word of God in Jesus Christ even as and although we do not understand it in the very least, or see it fulfilled and consummated in the very least, in relation to our present. We accept it because it speaks to us of an act of God on us even as and although we see only our own empty hands which we stretch out to God in the process. We believe our future being. We believe in an eternal life even in the midst of the valley of death. In this way, in this futurity, we have it. The assurance with which we know this having is the assurance of faith, and the assurance of faith means concretely the assurance of hope.” (CD 1.1 p. 463)

In His ascension we are assured of all the promises of God. This means for the Church our King is not one that reigns in this world. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ. In His ascension our eyes and hearts are lifted to His heavenly throne from which He rules over all things. Christ Ganski (my pastor) offers what he believes the ascension means for the Church:

“Ascension means the church possesses an institutional otherworldliness that allows it to be a counter-cultural presence in the world. Its institutional centre is located in heaven. Christ the “head,” the founder and foundation of the church, does not occupy physical space on earth. As an institution, the church is ordered to an alternative economy. This economy, the kingdom of God, takes its direction from Jesus’s heavenly location where all things have been rearranged around him.” (The Church Upward and Outward)

Let us hold fast to our tradition, the Holy catholic Faith. Rest easy pray:

“so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with him continually dwell”

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28)

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