Eugene Peterson on the Ascension of Jesus

Ascension may be one of the most under-celebrated events in the church’s life. Part of the reason is that Ascension Day always falls on Thursday, never on Sunday, and so no sermon is required. Luther said that the creedal “right hand of the Father” means “everywhere.” That throne relatives and marginalizes all earthly thrones and all the world’s politics. The Ascension of Jesus prevent us from reducing the rule of Jesus to my heart as his throne. It is that, too, but much, much more.

In order to keep the Ascension of Jesus in sharp focus, the church has commonly used Psalm 47 to shape our response to all that is involved. The psalm sets a scene of joyful triumph:

God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet….
Sing praises to our King, sing praises….
God is king over all the earth;
God sits on his holy throne.
(Ps. 47:5,6,8)

The same Jesus who just over forty days earlier had been crowned “King of the Jews” on his Golgotha throne is now ruling from heaven’s throne. Everything he said and did in Roman-occupied Palestine is now being spoken and acted upon from “on high.”

When Paul’s companion Luke set out in Acts to tell us the story of the church, he began with Jesus’ Ascension. Ascension is the opening scene that establishes the context for everything that follows: Jesus installed in a position of absolute rule – Christ our King. All men and women live under the rule of Jesus. This rule trumps all other thrones and principalities and powers.

Knowing this, with the knowing elaborated and deepened in worship, the church has the necessary room to live robustly under the conditions of resurrection. If we don’t know this, the church, its imagination conditioned by death and the devil, will live timidly and cautiously.

Paul places the Ascension focus that Luke established at the threshold of the story of the church’s birth and early development by repeating the Ascension imagery, “he ascended on high,” as his orienting text for lives formed into a mature resurrection life: the resurrected Jesus rules church and world and every last one of us from heaven’s strategic center. That he rules is basic belief; the way he rules is subjected to numerous squabbles among Christians who insist on replacing a personal Lord with an impersonal doctrine.

Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 43,44

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