He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke 24: 50-53
While Methodists do not, as a rule, make very much of Ascension Day it is an important marker in the story of our salvation. Leave aside the literalist questions about “what happened” and the ultimately pointless question of why Luke gives us two different accounts of the same event. Consider instead the significance of this story: what does it mean for followers of Jesus?
First, it signifies that the movement God makes to us is not merely one way. In the incarnation, we declare that God takes our flesh and comes among us. “Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man” was how Wesley put it in his incomparably poetry. Good news! God is with us. But be honest. Who has faith enough to respond to that kind of overwhelming self-giving? For me, it is the Ascension of Christ that ‘completes the circle’. Just as in the Incarnation God comes to us, so in the Ascension we are taken back to God. Jesus Christ, the new Adam, the representative of us all, takes our flesh into the presence of God that we may follow him. It is above all a declaration of God’s grace. All our weakest, most feeble and hesitant steps of faith can be caught up in his perfect faithfulness. There is no part of our salvation which relies on us. It has all been done by the unchanging grace of God. And by the Holy Spirit, that “double movement” from God to humanity, humanity to God continues in the lives of his people and the life of his church.
Second, the Ascension declares the Lordship of Jesus. Not over selected people, lands, places or parts of our lives. All of it. That “Jesus is Lord” is a done deal. There is no more to be said except, “Will you recognize his claim?” His rule extends to our politics and economic policies, for there is no part of our lives from which his lordship is absent. Here we have to admit that even the most outwardly ardent followers of Jesus have fallen short. Political debate among Christians has little to distinguish it: we have too often given way to ‘realism’ and expediency, conveniently ignoring this most consistent claim of the gospel. He can be a personal Lord and Saviour, but it will be the markets that have the final say when it comes to money. He can have loyalty in the worldwide struggle against powers and systems, but musn’t interfere with my autonomy. Right or Left, we have too often subjugated Christ to whatever political instincts and ideologies make their rival claims upon us.