“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)” are Matthew’s last words in his Gospel before Jesus ascended. We call yesterday Ascension Day because Jesus disappears from sight in a cloud. “Ascend” has a double meaning, though, that is important to see here. Often we think of it as Jesus returning to God the Father, that is going up in a cloud. But then we have a problem because that puts God “up in the heaven” along with Jesus and so the promise of presence becomes complicated. I offer a second interpretation.
When the king dies, the son “ascends” to the thrown. The heir assumes the title and privileges he was born to. Jesus’ ascension is not a trip away but a return to his pre-incarnation status as God who spoke at creation, who has specific physical appearances in the Old Testament and who promises to always be with us. We will look at two post-ascension encounters with Jesus next week. As with most things related to faith, an element of mystery is involved. Faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)”
According to Luke in the book of Acts, as the followers are on the mountain top seeing Jesus disappear in the cloud, two angels address them, “’Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” For sure, people have split hairs over what the ascension means and just where Jesus is now. Jesus says he is with us always and forever. Perhaps the angels’ question is what we should focus on today. Where are we looking for Jesus today, in the clouds or with us?
Often the answer is that the living word, Jesus, is found in the spoken word, and the written word. As we read Scripture we have holy encounters. In church we worship. Others find the sacred in nature as they contemplate God’s creation. They encounter in nature the God who created life. Many love the words of music that reminds them of Jesus eternal presence with them. Many times we are healed by the hug of a friend. The list goes on. Jesus has promised to be with us always so wherever we are, he is with us, seen or unseen. This promise grounds us for facing any challenge that might face us today. Blessings!