Today the Church in the United States celebrates the great solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. This event happened some 40 days after Christ’s resurrection and it is described in the New Testament as the culmination of Christ the Lord’s revelation in the body of his Incarnation.
The disciples witnessed Christ ascend into heaven, and by this is not meant simply that Christ’s body floated away into the stratosphere, but that Christ the Lord revealed himself as the Lord of Heaven and Earth. In the revelation of Christ’s ascension, his disciples saw him for who he really and truly is, not just a man of flesh and blood, but God himself, and they further saw that not only did the earth belong to him, indeed all creation in its totality, but heaven belonged to him as well.
The earth is not ours, but it is God in Christ’s gift to us and heaven is not whatever that we might make it out to be, some kind of utopia, but heaven is given to us by God in Christ.
The language used in the New Testament to describe the Ascension of the Lord Jesus suggests imagery from the Old Testament Book of Daniel, specifically Chapter 7 verses 13-14 of the Book of Daniel, which describes a new era for humanity that happens with the revelation of a person of great power and glory, a person who looks simultaneously divine and human, who comes out of heaven and reveals himself on earth. This strange text from the Book of Daniel is understood by Christians as referring to the Lord Jesus, and the Ascension of the Lord confirms that what the Book of Daniel described in words becomes a reality in the Lord Jesus.
The early disciples did not understand the Christ’s ascension as meaning that Christ disappeared into the sky, but that he revealed himself as the one, true God and Lord of the earth and heaven- and since Christ is the one, true God and Lord of the earth and heaven, their lives were to be placed at his service.
And it was this revelation, that the life of a disciple is not their own to do with whatever they wanted, but instead, that the life of a follower of the Lord Jesus belongs to Christ, that is the meaning of the Ascension of the Lord.
The Gospel of Luke testifies that this revelation, the revelation that the lives of Christ’s disciples would be lived out in service to him, filled Christ’s disciples with joy and inspired them to worship. This means service to Christ imbued their lives with meaning and purpose. They did not accept service to Christ as a grim obligation, but a great and adventurous opportunity.
Christ the Lord had given his life for them and now the followers of the Lord Jesus would give their lives over to him.
Truly this is what it means to be a Christian. One becomes a Christian inasmuch as one recognizes that Christ is God, accepts him as the Lord of earth and heaven, and then places their life at his service. No one is accidentally a Christian. One becomes a Christian because one has made an intentional decision to give one’s life over in service to the Lord Jesus. No one becomes a Christian through some kind of cultural or ethnic osmosis. One becomes a Christian because you come to recognize the truth about the Lord Jesus that his earliest disciples saw revealed in the Ascension- that he is God and Lord and that their lives belonged to him.
But do we serve Christ? Do our lives belong to him?
Christians learn how to serve Christ from the Church and it is through this service that we become ever more like Christ ourselves. Concretely, specifically, service to Christ happens when Christians accomplish what the Church calls the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The institutions of the Church are intended to help Christians to accomplish these works of mercy. In fact, accomplishing the works of mercy is the reason that the Church has institutions.
They do not exist to serve our causes, interests or provide faith-based services to subscribing members- the institutions of the Church exist to help Christians accomplish the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The works of mercy manifest our service to Jesus Christ. It is by accomplishing the works of mercy that we act like Christ and become ever more like him.
Do we seek to accomplish the works of mercy? Is this what the Church institutions that we support are all about?
Being a Christian is not just about being polite and nice. Being a Christian is about accomplishing works of mercy that help us to become ever more like Christ.
The great solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord simultaneously makes statements about who the Lord Jesus is and who we are.
Christ the Lord is God and earth and heaven belong to him- this is what the Ascension proclaims concerning the Lord Jesus.
And us? What does the Ascension of the Lord state about us?
The Ascension of the Lord proclaims that if we accept that Christ the Lord is God and that earth and heaven belong to him, then our lives are to be placed at his service.
So, as we stand before the Lord now, let us be clear and honest- have we placed ourselves at Christ’s service, and if our answer is yes, then how and in what ways?