Here are some thoughts on Ascension (largely inspired by Walter Brueggemann in his brilliant book “Mandate to Difference“).
Today is Ascension day. When most of us grew up in South Africa, in our pre-democratic days, it was a holiday.
When we read about the ascension in the Bible it is critical to keep in mind that this event took place in Israel and was witnessed by Jews who had imaginations impregnated with the Psalms (and Daniel 7). On this day Psalm 68 would really have been relevant for them.
The Old Testament professor, Walter Brueggemann, notes that this Psalm is one of “God riding around in the sky on a cloud, supervising, monitoring, breathing life, and giving power to creation”p.2
A verse in the Psalm invites us to,
“Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds- his name is the Lord – be exultant before him.” Psalm 68.4
Ascension is the celebration that God has rose to power. It is an image that places Jesus at the top. He is higher. In the heights he has ultimate power. In the creeds we confess that, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God”. This power is used to be,
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.(v5-6)
Bruegemann states that,
It turns out that the one who has ascended into power is not transcendent in remoteness, is not splendid in indifference, but is deeply in touch with the reality of the earth where money and power and social leverage and differentiation of gender, race, and class leave some dangerously exposed. This father-God to whom we pray “our father” rides the clouds not as a joy-rider, but rather to be in a position to see and to know and to care and to intervene and to feed and to heal and to forgive and to reconcile and to liberate. It turns out that ascension, whereby God is celebrated in power, is a claim that the earth is ordered differently because of the one who governs it. (p3-4).
Ascension is therefore the day in which we celebrate that what God has done to Jesus now becomes the mandate of the church to serve the world. We become agents of the new government!
The ascension states that there is a regime change in the world.
Jesus is Lord!
Therefore imagine (with Brueggemann) on this ascension day:
“The ascended Lord Jesus, riding on a cloud of glory, keeping the world under caring surveillance. Imagine that the cloud is the throne room where sits the Father of all mercy. Imagine the governance of Father-Son sending out edicts, directives, and policies that concerning the earth:
Here is a press release that says,
The newly ascended power has decreed that there is more than enough, and greed is inappropriate in this world of God’s generosity.
Here is a new act of legislation from the government of God that says,
Perfect love casts out hate, that we are not free for vengeance but must leave such matters to the wise Father.
Here is an edict from the government that says,
Do not fear for I am with you and the world will hold.(p.6)
In the book of Acts we read that when Jesus ascended the disciples stared into heaven. A messenger then told them to get a move on … something was about to happen … they would receive power to live into the rhythms of the new government. Come Holy Spirit.