The Meaning of Jesus' Ascension
When you think of Heaven, do you ever think of where it’s located?
If I pulled out a map, or a globe, could you point to it? No, you say, of course not—because it isn’t on our planet. It’s…up somewhere.
Inasmuch as we think about where Heaven is at all, we usually imagine it to be up there: where we’re not exactly sure, but up, anyway. Conversely, the “other place” is down. But a moment’s reflection and we know this can’t be the case—all the cartoons have shown us that if you burrow into the earth you end up in China, not Hades. Likewise, Heaven isn’t in the clouds of our planet or even the moons of Jupiter.
Our problem arises from trying to locate Heaven at all.
According to the biblical view, “heaven” and “earth” are not two locations on the same cosmic landscape. Despite what some in our space program are probably hoping, you can’t hop in a rocket ship and end up at the pearly gates. You know this in your gut.
Instead, in the biblical worldview, “heaven” and “earth” are two dimensions of God’s creation. As we discussed in Sunday's sermon, they were rent asunder by the entrance of sin into creation, but at Jesus’ return heaven and earth will be joined together again. Heaven isn’t a “place on earth,” but heaven and earth will ultimately be wedded together in perfect union so that “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21.3).
From this perspective, heaven is but a veiled reality to us. It is there, we just can’t see it. The book of “Revelation”—literally, apocalypse—is the “unveiling” of what is there if only we had eyes to see.
So, then, what does it mean that Jesus has “ascended into heaven”? So glad you asked. The significance of this is, principally, twofold.
1. The Persistent Presence of Christ
First, it has to do with the continuing, bodily presence of Jesus in creation. It is a conundrum for many Christians: how can the Real Presence of Jesus be in the Sacrament? How is it possible that He could be here, among us, in, with, and under the bread & wine? And not only here, but throughout the world?
For many, the answer is simply, He can’t. It’s not possible. He’s “spiritually” present, it is said. We conjure up His “spiritual presence” with our memory of Him. This is true so far as it goes, but the Ascension shows that it doesn't go nearly far enough.
Since heaven isn’t so much a place as a dimension, the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth. Jesus’ ascension into heaven therefore means that he is available, accessible, present, in all creation—in His body. He is ever and always the “Incarnate One.”
Notice what St. Paul says in Ephesians: "God raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places...And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1.20-23).
The ascended Jesus is the One God seated “at his right hand in the heavenly places” and the One “who fills all in all.” That Jesus is risen does not mean that his body can’t be anywhere in creation; it means that it can. Which means that He can be, and is, present in the Sacrament. The embodied, risen Jesus is alive and fills all things.
That is the first significant thing about Jesus’ ascension into heaven: that, because He is in heaven, He is therefore present, bodily, throughout creation.
2. Creation's Control Room
To understand the second point of significance, think of the old Scooby Doo cartoons. Scooby, Shaggy, and the gang are chasing down this or that mystery and find themselves in some big mansion. The trail goes cold. They can’t find any clues. And just then, someone backs into what appears to be a bookshelf, but which then spins around to reveal a hidden control room, complete with all kinds of computers and gadgets and things.
Pardon this rather crass analogy, but heaven is like that hidden control room. Hidden to us, as I said, but in fact an ever-present dimension where God dwells and from which God rules. And Jesus, ascending into heaven and taking his seat beside His Father, is now, as they say, the Father's “right hand man.” Heaven is creation's control room, its CEO office, and the Lamb is on the throne.
By ascending into heaven, Jesus assumed His rightful place as King over all creation. Again, as we read in Ephesians, Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.” Then St. Paul says, echoing Psalm 110, “[God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet.” Jesus not only shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run; He does reign and rule over all things now. He is Lord.
All this is good news for you and me.
It means that, first of all, Jesus has not left us as orphans, just as he promised he wouldn’t. His Real Presence in creation persists and endures; He is with us today, in His very body & blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.
And His ascension is good news in that, since Jesus is Lord, ruling over all history, we can breathe a sigh of relief. He is in charge. He’s got it all under control. Despite evidences to the contrary, chaos does not reign. Jesus does.
He is the crucified one, risen, and ascended for you, in order that he might make you partakers in His divine life.