Today is the 40th day of Easter. According to the gospel, it marks the day on which Jesus Christ ascended into heaven on the clouds and sat down at the right hand of God the Father. The ascended Christ is the one and only mediator between God and men; he ever lives to make intercessory prayers for all those he redeemed with his blood.
Minister: 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. (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Ascensiontide)
Canon of Scripture
Minister: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
All: Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:50-53)
Minister: So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11)
All: Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:33-36)
Minister: Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:3-4)
All: But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:7-10)
Minister: Baptism, which corresponds to the deliverance of Noah’s family through water, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
All: But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)
Minister: because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:6-10)
All: “We believe…he ascended into heaven, and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. ” (Nicene Creed)
The Lord’s Prayer
Tim Keller argues forcefully that the ascension is a crucial, if often overlooked, aspect of the work of Christ. “Actually, it makes an enormous difference,” Keller writes. “The ascension, when understood, becomes an irreplaceable, important resource for living our lives in the world—and it’s a resource no other religion or philosophy of life holds out to us.”
Keller offers two theological reasons for the necessity of the ascension.
First, Jesus, as the unique God-man—fully human and fully divine—was going to take his place as the new king and head of the human race. Keller explains:
Now, if Jesus merely wanted to return to the Father, he could have just vanished. There were other times when he vanished immediately out of sight, as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. But instead, at the ascension Jesus literally rises up into the clouds and disappears into the distance of the heavens. Why did he do it that way? We can only speculate, but it may have been for the same reason that we have a coronation ceremony.
Second, in the ascension Jesus left the limitations of the time-space continuum and passed into the presence of the Father. In his incarnation, Jesus was limited to one spot at one moment. If you wanted to speak with him or relate to him, you had to do it at that place. “But at the ascension,” Keller writes, “Jesus leaves the space-time continuum and passes into the presence of the Father. He is still human, still our second Adam . . . and still our Advocate—yet now he has been so glorified that everything he does has a cosmic scope . . . any time-space limitation passes away.”