The story of the Ascension is bizarre
The story of Jesus’s ascension into heaven can seem bizarre to modern day Christians and I struggled with it myself for many years – wondering how Jesus’s body could have lifted off the earth and where exactly it went.
In time, I came to see the story as simply marking the end of Jesus’s bodily resurrection appearances and I assumed that the disciples were given a vision of Jesus ascending into ‘heaven’ because, in the first century, people would have thought of God being ‘up there.’ And so it made sense that, if Jesus was returning to the Father, then he would need to go up.
The story of the Ascension is pivotal
Recently, however, it struck me that there are two accounts of Jesus’s ascension into heaven – one at the end of the gospel of Luke and one at the beginning of Acts. Since both of these books are written by the evangelist Luke – the story sits as a kind of pivot between Book I and Book II.
Why is this?
Well, the answer to that question becomes clear when we ask what those two books are about. The first book is about the life and works of Jesus in his bodily ministry. The second is about the life and works of Jesus through the power of The Holy Spirit. Many of the miracles we see Jesus do in the first book we see him repeat in the second book – but, this time, acting through his disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The story of the Ascension is good news
The good news of the Ascension is that Jesus’s ministry wasn’t limited to three years in a small part of Palestine 2000 years ago. It ranges over the whole of creation and for all times through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is given to disciples of Jesus.
So don’t get fixated on modern science and how that fits with the Ascension Day story. That’s like going to a foreign country and expecting everything to be exactly as it is at home.
Instead remember the heart of the story of the Ascension – that Jesus bodily ministry was a brief and wonderful manifestation of God’s presence and his power. But that same presence and power are ours today and everywhere – because Jesus ascended to heaven, he returned to God and gave his disciples the gift of his Holy Spirit. And continues to give his disciples that gift today.