As a holiday, Ascension Day ranks up there with International Talk Like a Pirate Day. That’s too bad, especially for Christians who otherwise believe Easter is the holiest day of the year. Most people know that Advent is a time of preparation leading up to Christmas, and Lent as the 40 days of penance and reflection that precede Easter. But Easter itself is also a “season,” and it ends today with Ascension.
If you’ve ever seen a stained glass window that shows Jesus’ feet sticking downward out of a cloud, you know what I mean.
The idea of the human Jesus now being in heaven, in a thoroughly embodied risen state, comes as a shock to many people. Both our culture and the church are imbued with the Platonic idea that heaven is a spiritual, nonmaterial place, while earth is the exclusive realm of what’s physical and real. That’s not what’s taught in Scripture, however, where we come to understand that heaven and earth are two localities with different kinds of time and space. If you’ve read "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. We don’t know exactly how heaven and earth interlock, but they do, which should make the idea of the ascension of Jesus a little easier to grasp. Or not—depending on where you’re coming from on the question of Jesus.
The New Testament tells us that when God renews the whole cosmos, Jesus himself will be personally present as the center and focus of the new world that will result. The ascension was necessary. It’s part of God’s story, and a pretty amazing and wonderful chapter at that. A cosmic redemption of the universe is in the offing. Placed in that context, the physical ascension of Jesus to a place that looks a lot like this world sounds like something worth remembering. The church is remiss in this regard.
Biblical scholar N.T. Wright has written that part of Christian belief is to find out what's true about Jesus and let that challenge our culture. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus does exactly that--in spades.