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Making Sense of the Ascension

As we keep the feast of our Lord’s ascension there is no other book of the Bible more important than St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This is a bold statement, I know, particularly since the entire New Testament and, rightly understood, the Old Testament, too, are the result of Christ’s ascension and the Church’s conviction that he is therefore “the Lord”. This earliest Christian confession – Jesus is Lord – is based upon the Lord’s ascension to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Everything flows from this: Baptism; Holy Communion; our worship and the orientation of our lives toward him and his Kingdom; not to mention the Creed, the councils, etc. None of this would exist where he just another prophet or teacher who suffered terribly but whose memory we keep. It is the absolute Christian conviction that Jesus is alive and reigning over the world that is the basis for anything that can truly be called Christian.

So how can we be so bold as to say that Ephesians is the most important thing for us to read in this season of the Ascension? Because, quite simply, it is some of the most sublime theology ever written and which is the result of the vision given to the Apostle Paul of the ascended and reigning Christ. The Apostle, having experienced the exalted Lord when he was caught up into heaven, came to understand everything in the light of this revelation. And Ephesians states the truth of this vision in the most profound and comprehensive of ways.

The whole of the first three chapters is an effusive statement of praise to God, the foundation of which is found in chapter 1 verse 10: Christ’s recapitulation, or gathering together, in one of all things in Christ, all things in heaven and on earth. All things, that is, once fragmented and separated due to sin have now been reunited, reconciled, and restored in Christ. And now there is no longer in Christ any division in the world that has not been overcome. The spiritual and the material world, the angels and mankind, man and woman, Jews and Gentiles, everything is reconciled and united in him in a unity that is harmonious and whole. St Paul’s exclamation of this results in his shocking statement that the name of this wholeness is, quite simply, the Church. She is the fullness of Christ, God’s true temple, and the Body of Christ.

The profound vision of Christ and the Church of the first three chapters leads directly to the more practical instructions of the last three. The unity and newness which has come about through Christ’s dispensation must be preserved and practiced in the Church by Christians. Thus, the diverse gifts of the Spirit poured out on believers as a result of the ascension serve to realize the unity here and now. Walking in love and gentleness toward one another, likewise, preserves this unity. Relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, servants and masters, all must be ordered and directed by the vision that the Church is not simply another worldly institution but God’s household, temple, and the Body of Christ.

All of our practical living in the world as taught in chapters 4-6, then, only makes sense in the light of the vision articulated in chapters 1-3. Without this it all will degenerate into mere rules and ethics. The Christian life and the existence of the Church in the world only make sense because Jesus is the ascended Lord. And, likewise, in light of this vision, any other way of life makes no sense. A way of life not in line with the ascension is a denial of it.

Let us, then, live lives that make sense, keeping the feast of the Lord’s ascension, now and always!

With love in Christ,

Fr John

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